I loved learning about the prophets during Bible class in high school. A bona fide prophet, we were taught by the Jesuits at Gonzaga Prep, would "comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable." That's a pretty simple job description, and I've cited it as a mission statement behind our social justice reporting. Prophets have been inspiring people for centuries.
In his visit to America this week, Pope Francis is revealing himself to be more prophet than pope. Too often, the popes have been caught up in the pomp of the comfortable camp. This pope, however, chose to sleep in a Vatican guesthouse instead of the opulent pope's quarters. He drives a secondhand 1984 Renault. For an outing, he often washes the feet of the poor or imprisoned.
Now Pope Francis arrives in a land of great contradictions. On the surface, we're a nation of comfort. But look closer, and you'll find plenty of affliction. While Wall Street traders who break the law and wreck the economy face zero legal repercussions, men and women who have not been found guilty of a crime wallow in our Spokane County Jail because they can't muster $250 for bail. Ours is a land badly in need of a prophet.
Now Francis has drawn criticism for questioning the morality of capitalism and the greed it can create, along with challenging the affront to God's creation that is climate change. Republicans in Congress — you can't get more comfortable than that bunch — were the ones who invited Francis to speak to our nation's leaders. Now they're falling all over themselves to destroy his message. Guess they didn't learn about the prophets in school.
Comfortable people throughout history have shown they don't like being afflicted, and as a result, the prophets were usually martyred. But that only guaranteed that their message would live on. Two millennia later, we still study, cherish and (try to) follow the words of Jesus. Meanwhile, those moneychangers in the Temple remain the eternal villains.
"Why are the wicked so prosperous?" the prophet Jeremiah asks the Lord in the Old Testament book bearing his name. " ...You [God] have planted them, and they have taken root and prospered. Your name is on their lips, but you are far from their hearts."
Jeremiah is describing the vain, complacent, too-comfortable class of his era, around 600 BC, but he could be describing America in 2015.
Our own moneychangers have the majority of Americans feeling afflicted. That's why, despite the blatherings of most GOP leaders, Pope Francis will find America to be a fertile field to plant his own seeds. And they are seeds of hope. ♦