Jesus’ Prophetic Ministry––and Ours
(Fr. Robert, 3/5/18)
In the Gospel, Jesus laments that “no prophet is accepted in his native place.” Indeed, he is in his Nazareth, and the people want to kill him! It has always been risky being a prophet.
In the Old Testament there are some seventeen books of prophets, which constitute a very significant portion of the Old Testament. And in the New Testament, the Gospels Mark, Luke and John begin with the towering prophet, John the Baptist, who directly prepares the way for Jesus.
The priests in the Old Testament, and the New, presided over the cult of the temple, and offered instruction regarding the law. They were essential to the institutional side of Israel’s religion. But the prophets offered another, very important kind of ministry. They were regularly in conflict with the priests, but not always. For the prophets attended carefully to messages from God, coming to them personally, in the now, about today and tomorrow regarding Israel, or the King, or indeed the priests. And kings and priests and people regularly did not accept their prophetic messages. Jesus identified himself with this prophetic heritage. And in fact the people of the synagogue of his hometown were furious with him and sought to kill him. And of course the high priests and crowds later on did hand him over to Pilate to be killed, in the horrendous manner of crucifixion.
The Letter to the Hebrews represents Christ as High Priest, but according to the mysterious, pre-Levitical priesthood of Melchizedek. But Christ is also prophet; in fact, for us Christians he is the Prophet, fulfilling the prophets. Isaiah’s sublime suffering servant passages, for instance, were fulfilled in Jesus, who himself suffered for and supported the poor, the oppressed, the anawim, as did the prophets before him. Unlike the priests, he associated with the poor, with women, with Samaritans, with lepers, tax collectors, etc. And he did prophesy about the upcoming destruction of the temple, for instance, and decisively about his own suffering and death, and resurrection—the heart of the Paschal proclamation.
We Christians are baptized into Christ. And since Christ is the High priest, thus we all share in the priesthood of all believers. And since Christ is the Prophet, each of us, by virtue of our baptism, are called to listen to God’s voice within, and, if called, to proclaim it to others.
This gets tricky, however, because there are the false prophets all the way through the prophetic ages, to our own time. We are all called, therefore, to very carefully “discern the spirits,” to see if they are of God, and hopefully with the help of very qualified spiritual directors. St. John of the Cross and St. Teresa of Avila, for instance, warn emphatically against the danger of false “locutions,” messages to one who presumes them to be of God; and most especially if they are about one’s own aggrandizement, about how important one will become. As the saints stress, true communion with God leads one to ever greater deep, Christian humility, and emphatic focus in faith on the ineffable God, and commitment to the poor and the oppressed. The Vatican has a whole list of even canonized saints who received authentic messages from God, but also inauthentic messages which they believed and which turned out not to be true.
Some Christians, also in our own time, do seem to have a special authentic public prophetic call, by a consensus of laity and clergy and hierarchy, to utter authentic prophetic words in favor of the poor, the oppressed, the marginalized. Thus Martin Luther King, and Cesar Chavez, and the later Thomas Merton, in his writings against segregation, against unjust wars, etc. Pope Francis referred to Dorothy Day and Thomas Merton by name in his discourse to the U.S. Congress.
Let us seek to hear the authentic prophetic words of our own time, and support them.