(Hymn: "Nobody knows the trouble I've seen, Nobody knows but Jesus, ... Glory, hallelujah).
The singer in the spiritual brings out the contrast of feelings, the "downs" and the "ups" of life. As another person has put it, "I'm halfway between 'Lord, have mercy' and 'Thank you, Jesus'".
In today's first reading and in the gospel, we hear of possible reactions to the presence of prophets. Ezekiel had a powerful imagination He spoke for God as a teacher and leader. He urged the family of Israel to recognize their negative attitude, their "down" as the beginning of a solution and to learn how to change themselves in a positive way, their "up".
When we think of the word "religion", usually a positive impression is conveyed, the "up". For examples, Mahatma Gandhi, Mother Teresa, the ministry of hospital sisters in the US. But we know the worst that has been done in the name of religion, the "down". For examples, the Crusades, the Inquisition, the Salem witch killings. To that can be noted that all the top participants in Adolph Hitler's World War II catastrophe grew to maturity as Catholics.
In the second reading, St. Paul describes himself as a person afflicted with a handicap, his "down". He took this as a gift to keep him on the level, finding strength in Christ, his "up". The Paralympics, the "ups", are examples of athletes overcoming their handicaps, the "downs". Programs in other areas of human endeavor, such as music, the "up", help bring out peoples' abilities despite hindrances, the "down".
In the gospel, Jesus had his "up" with the initial positive reception to his message. But the "down" came with some locals demeaning his simple beginnings as a prophet in Nazareth.
Our nation, whose origins we celebrated this past Wednesday, has had its share of prophets. Julia Ward Howe, in her Mother's Day proclamation in 1870 an "up", wrote , "We, the women of one country, will be too tender of those of another country to allow our sons to be trained to injure theirs". The Berrigan brothers, Jesuit priests, were demonstrative "up" prophets acting against the Vietnam War.
In our own day, we have "up" prophets of acoustical ecology, warning of the growing disappearance of areas on this earth of ours where one can experience silence. "Up" visual ecologists bemoan that ever smaller areas are dark enough to be able to see the lights of the universe around us. Medical prophets speak out against the increasing health dangers brought on by obesity as a "down". Those working with quantum physics and chaos theory are prophets, "ups", urging us to focus on our planet earth with a sense of responsibility for its continued livable existence for future generations.
We question the "down" decisions our bishops take in avoiding the sex abuse scandal, in backing off on the criticism of unjust wars waged by our nation, in proposing and preaching a "down" mistaken theology of sexuality to the Church. But through all these "downs" and "ups", Jesus Our Shepherd stands with open hands, and gives the encouraging and welcoming assurance of His presence. AMEN