“No Prophet Arises From Galilee”
“No prophet arises from Galilee.” This statement from St. John’s Gospel (Jn 7:53) reflects an attitude that is all too common even today. It arose in the context of the growing controversy over the teaching and ministry of Jesus. Some were saying he might be the long-awaited Christ. Others remembered that the Christ was to be of the family of David and so should come from Bethlehem. Even among the religious leaders, there were differences of opinion about Jesus and whether he could possibly be the One. Finally the matter was closed with the observation that all of the predictions of his coming said that the Prophet was not to come from Galilee.
The finality of this statement struck me today as I listened to the Gospel. In the context of their traditions and their centuries of reflecting on those traditions and prophecies, the Jewish people and their religious leaders had developed a very specific expectation of how God would fulfill the promises made through Abraham and the prophets. The Messiah was to come from the line of David. David’s city was Bethlehem. No one raised and educated in the Galilee could possibly be the Christ.
Yet Jesus was from Nazareth, a small Galilean town. And he came teaching with authority. He didn’t say, “Scripture says …” and simply quote the Law or the prophets. He said, “You have heard it said … but I say …” He taught with authority and what he taught did not necessarily conform to the established understandings of the Law. Sometimes his teachings clarified that the Law is a guideline but that respect and care for humans and their needs comes before literal obedience to a law. Sometimes his teachings went beyond the demands of the Law and called for a much higher level of love, mercy and care that are more like the way God deals with us. Sometimes he reminded his listeners that not the smallest aspect of the Law was to be ignored, but rather that he had come to fulfill the Law.
Who Jesus was and is, the source of his authority, his mission as savior, God’s vindication of his teachings and life in the Resurrection, and how we are to carry on that mission today are all important things to consider. But those concerns were not what struck me. The question that struck me today is, How often do I/we make judgements about people and what their role in life could possibly be? When we assume that a person who comes from an economically poor area cannot speak words of truth to us, then maybe we are missing Christ speaking to us. When we decide that a family member or friend has always acted in a particular way and will never do otherwise, what kind of chains are we putting on the person? How are we trying to limit what God is doing in a brother or to trying to do through a sister to reach us?
Incarnation includes the fullness of humanity
With the Incarnation, God became fully human. Jesus is fully divine and fully human. In his humanity, he is the most perfect human who ever lived. His divinity supported his humanity. It did not in any way blot out or diminish his humanity. But that humanity is one he also shares with each of us. Being human is not a bad thing. Humans have amazing potential to become ever more perfectly human, just as Jesus was human. God wants to bring us as humans to a closer relationship and intimacy within God’s own life as Trinity. When we put up a hand to dismiss someone or stop someone from following the divine call to become ever-more immersed into the Trinity and the out-flowing of love that such immersion brings to the world, we may be putting up a hand to try to stop God’s action in our lives and our world. What a tragedy that would be!
In the remaining couple of weeks before Easter, let us pray that we will not join those honest men of so long ago in trying to stop or limit God’s initiatives because they don’t fit the model we envision of how and through whom God will work today. Let us take great care not to declare, “No prophet (teacher, mystic, messenger. leader) arises from …”