Monday, June 26, 2023

A Guys' Night Out


Jeremiah 20:7-13

Matthew 10:24-39

Proper 7 / Year A

When I was in seminary, some of my classmates invited me to join them for a guy’s night out.  We were all young, all men, and all in training for the ordained ministry.  At one point in the evening we began to discuss other classmates.  The conversation became increasing petty, negative, and critical as my friends zeroed in on Lucy, who drew their ire for being excessively over-weight.  How can someone that fat be a priest?” one asked.  In my diocese,” another proffered, “she would never get into the ordination process.” 

I grew increasingly uncomfortable with the tenor of the talk but kept my silence.  Lucy was a friend; someone I had come to know and respect.  In my estimation, the discussion served only one purpose; it alleviated personal insecurities by dwelling on the shortcomings of another.  Just like the prophet Jeremiah described in today’s first reading, a burning fire was growing within me as I held my tongue in the face of their verbal onslaught.  Finally, one of my classmates asked me, “Keith, what do you think?  Is Lucy too fat to be a priest?

Jim Wallis contends “Prophecy is not future telling but rather articulating moral truth.”  This truth may be applied to church life, to national policies, or to interpersonal relationships.  A prophet,” says Wallis, “diagnoses the present and points the way to a just solution.”

When I responded to my friends, I spoke as a prophet... as one who diagnosed the present situation, discerned its injustice, and articulated a moral truth.  Nobody has asked us to judge the moral, spiritual, or physical fitness of another’s call to the priesthood,” I said.  We are in seminary to discern our own calling, nothing more.  Our call will be tested and confirmed by our bishops and sponsoring dioceses.  If Lucy’s bishop sees fit to ordain her, that is up to him.”  And to put a frosting on my frosty response I said, “I wonder what our bishops would think of us if they were listening to the way we are ripping her apart. 

Well, it will not surprise you to learn this changed the nature of my relationship with my fellow classmates.  Our friendship moving forward diminished dramatically and I never again was invited to socialize with them.  Perhaps – no, almost for certain – I became the subject of their vicious conversations.  Oh, and by the way, Lucy has gone on to be a fine priest who has done fantastic work in her diocese for almost 35 years. 

Being a prophet is tricky business.  It is fraught with peril.  In our first lesson, Jeremiah laments God has tricked him in his calling.  “You enticed me and I was enticed.” The Hebrew word translated as enticed literally means duped or deceived.  “You deceived me and I was a dope.”  Jeremiah supposes people will warm to his words of truth, but has come to find the opposite.  He is mocked and ridiculed.  He has become a caricature and a laughingstock.  Rather than deal the substance of his message his audience attacks the messenger. 

In today’s Gospel reading Jesus prepares his disciples to go forth and carry on the work he has been doing.  He knows they will be attacked as he has been attacked.  He knows their commitment will create deep divisions, even their own families.  He assures them God is with them to protect them.  Rather than shrink back from their calling, Jesus tells them to shout truth from rooftops; to be bold in the face of resistance and ridicule.  To do anything less will not save their skin.  It will compromise who they are called and created to be.

When I think back now on the guys’ night out, I realize I was not (and still am not) the most tactful person on the planet.  I wonder what would have happened if I had responded by laughing it off, “Heck, I still trying to figure out why God would ever call me.”  Or if had been evasive, “Well, it is something to consider.”  What might have happened?  Well, I might have been invited to the next guys’ night out where I would have had to listen to more judgmental, mean-spirited conversations.  And eventually, I suspect, one of two things would have happened.  Either I would have had enough and spoken my truth or over time I would have begun to adopt the skewed views and values of my fellow seminarians.

The last thing Jesus says to his followers in today’s reading is this: “If you love your life you will lose it, but if you lose your life for my sake you will find it.”  Loving your life, in my story, looks like biting my tongue and biding my time in order to fit in and be accepted.  Yes, my friendships would have remained intact, but not my integrity.  Being willing to lose something important – relationships – in order to preserve what is essential – who God has created and calls me to be – is at the core of the Christian faith and life, not to mention what it means to be a decent, moral human being.  It is the prophet’s burden and the prophet’s reward.