Sharing in Christ’s prophetic office

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14th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B: July 8, 2012
Ezek 2:2-5; Ps 123; 2 Cor 12:7-10; Mark 6:1-6

In the Old Testament, we see that the People of Israel had three key roles or callings, who helped keep them connected to the Lord:

  • The priest, who taught them the Law and facilitated their offering of sacrifices in the Temple.
  • The king, who led them and organized their society in right and just ways, faithful to the Lord.
  • And the prophet, who spoke for the Lord and constantly called them back to faithfulness to their covenant with him.

Some individuals exercised two of these roles. But our Lord Jesus Christ fulfilled all three perfectly, exercising the triple office or triple “munera” of prophet, priest, and king. And because he does, so do we, from our baptism into him. The Catechism tells us (783) that “the whole People of God participates in these three offices of Christ and bears the responsibilities for mission and service that flow from them.”

Our Scripture readings today invite us to focus in on the office of prophet. What was the role of the Old Testament prophet? How did Christ fulfill it? And what does it mean for us to share in his office of prophet today?

One description of an Old Testament prophet is that he (sometimes she) was a spokesperson for God about the present.

  • The first thing about a prophet is that he had a very close relationship with God. God called him personally; and the story of that call was a key part of a prophet’s credentials. Indeed, our first reading today is part of Ezekiel’s call story. This meant that the prophet was a witness.
  • Then, on an ongoing basis, the prophet would listen to what God communicated to him, and would speak it in turn to the people to whom God sent him—usually the prophet’s own people. This made the prophet a preacher.
  • And what the prophet spoke about was mostly the present. When he spoke about the future or the past, it was largely to persuade his listeners to change their actions right now.

How was our Lord Jesus a prophet? Clearly, as God himself and Son of the Father, he had a closer relationship to the Father than anyone. Throughout the Gospels, we see him regularly going off by himself to pray to the Father—and he said that he spoke what the Father told him (John 12:50, 14:24). And he spoke about the present—about present-day events, as well as about the personal situations and needs in people’s hearts and lives. He called all to repentance: to change their ways and return to a right relationship with God. And we see in today’s Gospel reading, and in so many other Gospel passages, that his words had power and authority, so that they astonished those who had known him during his earlier, hidden life.

When we are baptized into Christ, one effect is that we are made to share or participate in his office of prophet. What does that mean for us? How do we carry it out? The Catechism sums it up succinctly when it says (785) that we share in Christ’s prophetic office:

  • when we unfailingly adhere to the faith once for all delivered to the saints;
  • when we deepen our understanding;
  • and when we become Christ’s witnesses in the midst of this world.

Does that describe you? Are you living out your share in Christ’s office of prophet? We saw that we are to adhere, to deepen, and to bear witness.

  • First, we are to adhere. A prophet was nothing without his relationship to God, and his own hearing of God’s word. So too our first essential step is receiving the truth that God has revealed to us: to hear it and to believe it. To hear and believe the Scriptures; to hear and believe all that the Church faithfully teaches. Not to reject it like the rebellious and obstinate listeners described in the first reading; but to receive it and adhere to it.
  • Second, we then need to deepen our understanding. We need to go beyond a kindergarten understanding of the Catholic faith, or even an eighth-grade understanding, if we are to be able to fully live it out and communicate it in our world today. We need to turn to official Church teaching, especially by the Pope and the bishops, whether we attend a class or read on our own: to deepen our grasp and understanding of what we have adhered to.
  • Third, we need to become Christ’s witnesses in the midst of this world. This is where we communicate to others what we have learned: when we act as spokespersons and ambassadors for God. The Second Vatican Council told us that we bear witness by a living testimony (our actions) as well as by the spoken word—and that this “takes on … a special force in that it is carried out in the ordinary surroundings of the world.” (Lumen gentium, 35)

The word that our world most needs to hear, is often the word it most firmly rejects. And so living out the office of prophet is never easy, nor is it guaranteed success. Like the prophet Ezekiel, we may encounter resistance and rejection; like our Lord Jesus, astonishment and offense; like St. Paul, insults, hardships, persecutions, and constraints. And yet the prophetic word we carry is a word of life and blessing, if it is received.

Today, in our culture, the truth we proclaim about sexuality and marriage is likely the prophetic word it most needs to hear; and the word it most firmly rejects. And yet, when it is received, it is life-giving. As St. Paul wrote to the Corinthians (2 Cor 2:15-16), “We are the aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing, to one a fragrance from death to death, to the other a fragrance from life to life.”

May we be faithful in sharing in Christ’s office of prophet: adhering to the faith, deepening our understanding of it, and living as Christ’s witnesses in the midst of this world. And whether our world should heed or resist, may they know that a prophet has been among them.

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