Preach, reprove, correct, and encourage (2 Tim 4:2)
Many object-and sometimes I suspect they might be right- that I am very strict and negative; that I always object and criticize and give negative examples and that I never come before my people with praise. Once, one of my parishioners- now my former parishioner-told me what I just told you and she also added that she had found, probably while watching some TV show, some,-well she said-church, where they praise each other and they boost each other’s confidence. She first took some “meditation” courses with them, and then formally joined the sect; and now I hear she goes to Belgrade very often to spread her new religion and sect there.
Pride is a very grave, and deadly sin, the most narcotic drug. With this example, and example of many others we can see why pride is a deadly sin. All sects use the same principle to manipulate and take advantage of human pride: “Those Christians, they are nothing. We are the real and chosen ones that are the keepers of human souls; come join us and we will reveal these secrets that are accessible only to us, the chosen and the faithful ones”. You are special, smarter and better than others. The sinner is carried away by his/her pride and gives his/her soul to the devil and then goes door to door spreading that devil’s seed.
At the time we celebrate St. Elijah the Prophet, while I was thinking about myself, and about the priest calling, about the role and the place of a priest at any time, and even at these reckless and unfaithful times, I thought of the Prophet, St. Elijah, God’s man, to see if he caressed and praised and be lauded his contemporaries, if he complied and condoned their behaviour or he did something else like all prophets and men of God did.
St. Elijah the Prophet was sent by God to His people at times harsh and troubled, similar to nowadays when people steadfastly endured their fate. Once, the chosen people of God revolted from God and they bowed to other, false gods. The wife of the revolted king Ahab, Jezebel had ordered that all the prophets, that could be found, be killed. And king Ahab had surrounded himself with false prophets that were telling him what he wanted to hear. God ordered Elijah to show himself to the king. “When Ahab saw Elijah, Ahab said to him, ‘Is it you, you troubler of Israel?’ And he answered, ‘I have not troubled Israel, but you have, and your father’s house, because you have abandoned the commandments of the Lord’” (1 Kings 18:17-18)
Elijah proposed to the apostate a very unusual duel. “Now summon the people from all over Israel to meet me on Mount Carmel. And bring the four hundred and fifty prophets of Baal and the four hundred prophets of Asherah, who eat at Jezebel’s table.” (1 Kings 18:19); that is 950 sycophants and king’s flatterers against him. And when the king summed all of his false prophets “Elijah came near to all the people and said, “How long will you go limping between two different opinions? If the Lord is God, follow him; but if Baal is God, then follow him.” (1 Kings 18:21) The Prophet’s challenge to the king’s conjurers was that they offer sacrifice, a bull, cut into pieces and put it on the wood but “not set fire to it.” And he would prepare the other bull and put it on the wood but would not set fire to it either. And that they call upon the name of their god, and that he would call upon the name of the Lord, “and the God who answers by fire, he is God.” (1 Kings 18:24)
And that’s what happened. “They took the bull that was given them, and they prepared it and called upon the name of Baal from morning until noon, saying, “O Baal, answer us!” But there was no voice, and no one answered. At noon Elijah began to taunt them. “Shout louder!” he said. “Surely he is a god! Perhaps he is deep in thought, or busy, or traveling. Maybe he is sleeping and must be awakened.” (1 Kings 18:26, 27)
And when Elijah “repaired the altar of the Lord which had been torn down”, (1 Kings 18:30) and he arranged the wood and cut the bull in pieces and laid the bull cut into pieces on the wood, and he ordered that the water be poured over his bull and his wood three times, and he kneeled down before God and said: “Lord, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Israel, let it be known today that you are God in Israel and that I am your servant and have done all these things at your command. Answer me, o Lord, answer me, that this people may know that you, o Lord, are God, and that you have turned their hearts back.” Then the fire of the Lord fell and burned up the sacrifice, the wood, the stones and the soil, and also licked up the water in the trench. And when all the people saw it, they fell on their faces and said, “The Lord, he is God; the Lord, he is God.” And Elijah said to them, “Seize the prophets of Baal; let not one of them escape.” And they seized them. And Elijah brought them down to the brook Kishon and slaughtered them there.” (1 Kings 18:36-40)
Do you think that quiet times came for this God’s prophet after the triumph, that he finally was accepted? No, quite opposite. When the queen found out what had happened to her favourites, she sent a messenger to Elijah with her promise that if she got him she “would make his life like that of one of them.” (1 Kings 19:3) So the prophet, what else could he do, “arose and ran for his life” (1 Kings 19:3) where disappointed in human bluntness he “prayed that he might die.” (1 Kings 19:4)
Always, in every generation there were those who executed the will of God, regardless of how disliked or dangerous it was, those who pointed out human faults and prophets and there were those who made profit on those same human faults. With Isaiah the prophet that was compared to blind watchmen that did not know anything and lazy and dreamy dogs that were mute and could not bark so all the animals from the forest could come out at night to kill their prey and eat as much as they liked. (Isaiah 56:9-10) “No one calls for justice; no one pleads a case with integrity. They rely on empty arguments, they utter lies; they conceive trouble and give birth to evil. They hatch the eggs of vipers and spin a spider’s web. Whoever eats their eggs will die, and when one is broken, an adder is hatched.” (Isaiah 59:4-5)
God guides us in differentiating good shepherds from mercenaries, whose only interest is their own profit; lulled in tepid swamps they do not agitate the stagnant water. They do not disturb anyone and no one disturbs them. “The prophets prophesy lies, the priests rule by their own authority, and my people love it this way. But what will you do in the end?” (Jeremiah 5:31) One is told what he likes to hear; if one wants to hear praise, he gets praise from them. And when a true servant of God dares to disrupt that sinkable stillness, poor him, he’s finished.
And really if you look into fates of all true servants of God, you will see that very few died of natural causes. Most of them were killed in one way or another. So God throws the truth in the eyes of His hunters, because they build tombs for the prophets, and it was their ancestors who killed those prophets and they are not better than their ancestors. (Luke 11:47-49)
It was never easy to stand up for justice and to testify unpopular and bitter truth despite the noise and the hubbub of the shouters and mockers. Masses rather follow the sweet talkers. Everyone would rather hear that he is good and just, honest and respected than that he is sinful, mortal and ephemeral. That’s the job of a priest. “Son of man, I have made you a watchman for the people of Israel; so hear the word I speak and give them warning from me. When I say to a wicked person, ‘You will surely die,’ and you do not warn them or speak out to dissuade them from their evil ways in order to save their life, that wicked person will die for their sin, and I will hold you accountable for their blood. But if you do warn the wicked person and they do not turn from their wickedness or from their evil ways, they will die for their sin; but you will have saved yourself.” (Ezekiel 3:17-19)
St. Apostle Paul does not say to us, priests of today to go about people with praise and give them false hope, but to point out the ugly truth and prescribe them bitter medicine, in the same manner the prophets of today do. Timothy “solemnly urges his student in the presence of God and our Lord Jesus Christ to preach the word, to be ready in season and out of season, to correct, rebuke and encourage–with great patience and careful instruction. “For the time will come when people will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths.” (2 Timothy 4:1-4)
St. Elijah, the Prophet, reminds us that we are not asked to be those that scratch the itchy ears, but to follow the hard path of announcing unpopular truths of God.