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Speaking the prophetic word

BY FR DAVID RANSON

Once upon a time there was a king who ruled a small kingdom. It wasn’t great, and it wasn’t really known for any of its resources or people. But the king did have a diamond, a great perfect diamond that had been in his family for generations. 

He kept it on display for all to see and appreciate.  People came from all over the country to admire it and gaze at it.  Soon the word of it spread to neighbouring countries and more people came to look at it. Soon the people felt that the diamond was theirs; somehow it gave them a sense of pride, of dignity, of worth. 

Then one day a soldier came to the king with the news that, although no one had touched the diamond, for it was guarded day and night, the diamond was cracked.  The king ran to see, and sure enough there was a crack right through the middle of the diamond.

Immediately he summoned all the jewellers of the land and had them look at the diamond. One after another they examined the diamond and gave the bad news to the king; the diamond was useless; it was irredeemably flawed. 

The king was crushed, so were the people.  Somehow they felt they had lost everything.  Then out of nowhere came an old man who claimed to be a jeweller.  He asked to see the diamond.  After examining it, he looked up and confidently told the king, “I can fix it. In fact, I can make it better than it was before.” The king was shocked and a bit leery. 

The old man said, “Give me the jewel, and in a week I’ll bring to back fixed.”  Now the king was not about to let the stone out of his sight, even if it was ruined, so he gave the old man a room, all the tools and food and drink he needed and he waited.  The whole kingdom waited. It was a long week.

At the end of the week the old man appeared with the stone in his hand and gave it to the king.  The king couldn’t believe his eyes. It was magnificent.  The old man had fixed it and he had made it even better than it was before! 

He had used the crack that ran though the middle of the stone as a stem and carved an intricate, full blown rose, leaves and thorns into the diamond.  It was exquisite.  The king was overjoyed and offered the old man half his kingdom. 

He had taken something beautiful and perfect and improved upon it!  But the old man refused in front of everyone saying, “I didn’t do that at all. What I did was to take something flawed and cracked at its heart and turn it into something beautiful.

As the writer Megan McKenna reminds us, “That is, of course, the only thing any of us can ever hope to do:  take something that is cracked and flawed at its heart and turn it into something quite remarkable. 

It is what God is doing in regard to each of us, in fact.  Yet, this is not done simply for us.  It is done by God so that we might be signs of something greater than ourselves:  the very life of God in our world.  As each of us is carved by the grace of God through our discipleship of the risen Christ into a diamond of great beauty we radiate the light not of ourselves but of God and of God’s promise and intention for all those with whom we come into contact.

John the Baptist (pictured) fulfils this vocation in a particular way.  “He is a light to the nations, the last flare in the long dark, and for a moment the earth is illumined.”  He becomes this flare in the way that God shapes his life to be a sign of something greater than himself. 

He is a prophet.  And as a prophet he enters into his world full of contradiction, full of ambiguity, full of distortion, full of longing, full of misplaced hopes and points out the way forward, the sure way, the way of the Lamb of God whom he discerns in the midst of the clamouring voices, and in the midst of the crowd.  He is the one who can discern the very presence of Jesus in all that he struggles to reform. 

His vocation is the call of each of us.  As Cardinal Vingt- Trois, Archbishop of Paris, recently commented in an interview, “The Church is not a political party.  It is a community whose mission is to tell men and women of good will what it believes is best of them in the light of the Christian revelation.” 

As it enters into the hopes of the world often flawed and broken we seek therefore to search always for the way of life and of truth so that we do not leave the world simply a flawed diamond, a broken gem, but rather in taking the diamond into our care, wonder at how we might enable it to become a reality of exquisite beauty, considering how we might make something that presents as deeply flawed into something of noble beauty.

The prophetic vocation thus has an extraordinary responsibility.  It is well expressed by a Vatican document on the New Age movement of several years ago, that expressed the prophetic responsibility in the most remarkable way: 

If the Church is not be accused of being deaf to people’s longings, her members need to do two things:  to root themselves
ever more firmly in the fundamentals of their faith, and to understand the often-silent cry in people’s hearts, which leads
them elsewhere if they are not satisfied by the Church.”

This is the most intricate engagement of both truth and love, never one without the other.  Not truth or love, but truth and love.  It would be easy to exercise one without the other; it is far more difficult but far more transformative to seek to do both.  It is the double call of both repentance and of discernment, again never one without the other.

This truly prophetic stance is the one into which we are all called in this difficult time in which many of the social questions that have emerged are at such odds with the Christian vision of life.  These questions will not relent as much as we might like them to – questions about sexuality, questions about the demand for rights and equality without distinction such as we currently see in the debate about same-sex marriage amongst other things, questions about reproductive technology and bioethics, questions about the environment, questions about globalisation and the economic structures which keep so many in the world marginalised and without even the basics for life. 

We cannot close our ears and eyes to all these situations, wishing they would all go away.  No, rather we must stand in the midst of them ready to offer a word – a word both of truth and of love, a word that does not resile from an inconvenient truth which stands against a populist tide, and which is prepared for the price that John himself was to pay, but also a word that calls forth from the hungers and hopes of the people around us, albeit often misplaced and misdirected, something of beauty that they may not have imagined as even possible. 

As Walter Brueggeman, a great scripture scholar, was to write the genuinely prophetic vocation is to articulate the grief of a people, a grief that has been denied by a dominant cultural consciousness that promises illusory happiness and fulfilment.  We can only do this unafraid to exercise both truth and love.  Only both truth and love exercised together breaks through the cycles of illusion to lay bare a different possibility that promises what is most genuine and sure.

We take the flawed diamond which is the world.  With truth and love we seek to create in its midst a different way of being, a way which sheds a new kind of light and possibility.

– Fr David Ranson is Academic Secretary and Senior Lecturer in Spirituality at the Catholic Institute of Sydney. Flickr Creative Commons image of John the Baptist.

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