Most of us know the old definition of an “expert”: anyone who comes from more than fifty miles away. By now, the requirement must be five hundred miles. We seem to have a problem with closeness, with the ordinary, with the everyday.
Expertise is most respected when it comes from a distance. Prophetic gifts as well. Prophets are best when they are far away and long ago. Here and now is a different story. “Surely she cannot be a prophet. I went to school with her.” “He cannot prophesy; I know his mother.” “That guy cannot be a source of grace and joy to others; I’ve been with him in community for years. He tells terrible jokes and wears cufflinks.” Is this why no one is a hero to one’s own valet?
Since we are most often our own valets, most often familiar to ourselves, we are skeptical of the possibility that we ourselves could be prophetic or heroic. We leave little room for prophecy in the spaces closest and most intimate to us. Thus, there is little room for the miracles of faith. “No prophet is without honor except in that person’s native land. Jesus could work no miracle there, apart from a few, so much did their lack of faith distress him.”
In the tradition of so many other reluctant prophets, we use our proximity to ourselves as our excuse. “I am too young, too unprepared, too old, too weak and sinful, too busy and preoccupied, too homely, too nice. If only I could fly to a far-off place and some other time, in disguise, armed with stirring rhetoric and bright virtue. If only I could seize the pulpit or get the ear of the bishop, or be a holy subversive in the college of cardinals. Then, then I could prophesy.”
But not here. Not now. Not me.
The reason we reject our own heroic and prophetic possibilities, if we are honest with ourselves, is that we know how weak and inadequate we are. Surely a hero cannot be lurking behind such common talent, such ordinary appearance. Surely a prophet’s life is not marked by failures and frailties such as ours.
St. Paul, it seems, was also hounded by the thought of his inadequacy. He begged—three times—that God would remove the “thorn in his flesh.” The prayer seems not to have been answered.
But if, like him, we learn to be “content with our weakness, for the sake of Christ,” we may one day find ourselves unleashed, our hearts emboldened, our words firm and free.
“For when I am weak, then I am strong.” If that is the case, all prophecy, like all politics, is local.