In today’s Gospel, Jesus teaches us that you will know a tree by its fruits and similarly, Fr Andrew highlighted that you will know a true prophet based on what he stands for. Fr Andrew shared that prophets and profit never go together. Similarly, true prophets of God are born in God’s grief. A prophet is one who shares in God’s grief over all that has gone wrong in the world and whose heart aches for the pain of God’s people. It is from within this grief that a prophet arises to bring God’s exhortation and encouragement. This point kind of struck me and stayed with me the whole evening.
Indeed, a prophet is only needed when there is some truth that God needs to highlight; some changes that he needs to implement; when the healing of a broken world is needed whilst heralding the coming Kingdom of God. A prophet never arises for himself or for nothing. He is always a messenger of conversion; of metanoia – of a radical turning back unto God.
This led me to reflect on how it is also true that priests are born in the belly of God’s grief. Matthew 9:35–37 states, “Jesus made a tour through all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the Good News of the kingdom and curing all kinds of diseases and sickness. And when he saw the crowds he felt sorry for them because they were harassed and dejected, like sheep without a shepherd. Then he said to his disciples, 'The harvest is rich but the labourers are few, so ask the Lord of the harvest to send labourers to his harvest'.” Does this passage not highlight the grief of our Lord for humanity which is so often harassed and dejected like “sheep without a shepherd”? Indeed, it is the grief in the belly of God as he looked upon all of humanity that raised for us the Shepherd par excellence when the “Word became flesh” in the person of Jesus Christ. “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not be lost but may have eternal life. For God sent his Son into the world not to condemn the world, but so that through him the world might be saved.” (John 3:16-17)
It is certainly true that it is deep within the belly of God’s grief, when a man can truly feel the cry of God over his people just as Jesus wept over Jerusalem (Luke 19:41), so does the possibility of a priestly call also begin to germinate in the depths of his heart. A man is never called to be a priest for himself – he is called for the flock of Christ and to share in Christ’s care for his Bride, the Church.
This led me to realise how often we hear people complaining and criticising certain aspects of the Church. These complaints never seem to end and one complaint seems to only disappear when it gives way for another complaint. There are many motivations behind these complaints and criticisms. I am sure we can all confess that often, these complaints are not motivated by a genuine love for Christ or for his Church. The source of this sort of criticism can be easily discerned by the test that Jesus gives us in today’s Gospel – “you will know a tree by its fruits”.
However, on the other hand, we must also be able to discern when our uneasiness and our deep pain points to something much deeper and more radical. It is rooted and animated by love and for love. When our pain is animated by an authentic love for humanity and we shed tears over the realities of the world we live in and the human face of the Church, we then begin sharing in the tears of Jesus as he wept over Jerusalem and the pain he felt when he saw humanity harassed and dejected like “sheep without a shepherd”. This kind of pain in our hearts points to our union with Christ in the belly of the Father’s grief and here is where vocations are born. Here is where prophets are born; here is where priests are born.
Have you ever felt this deep pain and grief for God’s people in your own belly? Do you see the misery of your fellow brothers and sisters which many others do not seem to take notice of? Do you hear the cries of the hungry that the world seems to have turned a deaf ear towards? Could this be God’s personal gift to you? A sensitivity that seems to set you apart and you may even resent this grief you feel in your heart. This could well be the beginnings of a call; God’s special invitation to you to respond to this grief that only you know lies in your heart. The same Jesus whose heart was grieved in seeing the people harassed and dejected like “sheep without a shepherd”; he whom saw that the people were hungry and tired (cf. Matthew 14:15-21) could actually be allowing you to share in his heart’s grief and thereby saying to you, “Feed my sheep!”