At the risk of being pedantic, sometimes it can be illuminating to ask some obvious questions, or at least questions that seem obvious. So here are a few:
What is the work of a prophet?
To whom is the prophet sent?
What kinds of things does a prophet say?
For whom is the prophet's word good news? Who tends to find a prophet threatening?
I might say that a prophet is somebody called by God to say things that are true of God, of God's call for us, of God's promises to us. Remember that Moses was called to proclaim liberation for the Israelites from the Egyptians. Remember Ezekiel prophesied to the bones of his people that they would rise again. Jesus is sent to :to proclaim good news to the poor, to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.
I might say that a prophet is welcomed with open arms by people for whom their promises of liberation, of life, of healing are made. And I might remind us that a prophet is scorned and conspired against by those for whom their naming of God's promises are a burden, or a subversion. Pharoah didn't enjoy Moses' prophesying. Herod did not enjoy the prophecy of Jesus or John the Baptist, nor did the scribes, the priests, the rich. And in this Gospel passage this evening, this hometown crowd makes an attempt on Jesus' life that will just be the first attempt on it.
With a couple of millenia distance between us and the prophecy of biblical proportion, it would be easy to dissociate ourselves from the lives and calls and promises of the prophets of old. But one of the things we get to believe is that God is still at work among us and God is still calling prophets to speak to us. And our work is to wonder just who those prophets are, to wonder what they are speaking against, to wonder who is receiving their message as good news and to pay attention to who is conspiring against them. So I wonder:
What injustices do you see perpetrated among the poor, the sick, the vulnerable?
Who do you see that is brave enough to speak out against those injustices?
Where do you see the Pharoahs, the Herods, the crowds, conspiring to silence the prophet and tarnish their message?
Most of us might tend to think that we would gladly receive the words of a modern day prophet, welcome their message and recognize it as God's will for this world, easily collaborate with them in their efforts. It is also our job to anticipate the ways that prophets prophesying the promises of God, might also deeply upset us, to wonder what in ourselves or in our communities would try to silence them -- not throw them over the cliff, but perhaps call them too divisive, or too angry; not countermand but say that, well, everybody can decide for themselves, or, well, it's too much for children to wrap their brain around; not dismiss outright but instead defer, delay, send it off to committee, put it off til the next budget cycle.
The work of a prophet is to speak God's promises, to share the Good News into a broken and hurting world. This is a broken and hurting world, and it is our job to heed their calls, and definitely not to throw them off a cliff. Amen.