Sunday, July 09, 2006

The Prophetic Office of Christ

(14th Sunday in Ordinary Time-Year B;This homily was given 9 July, 2006, at Our Lady of Mercy, East Greenwich, R.I.; read Ezekiel 2:2-5 and Mark 6:1-6)

The Scripture readings for this weekend give us a glimpse of the vocation and the mission of the prophet. Prophets were a major part of the life of the people of Israel. One third of the Old Testament consists in the prophetic works; we hear of the life and ministry of prophets like Isaiah, Jeremiah, or Ezekiel, whose call is described in our first reading this morning.

The prophet, essentially, is one who speaks for another. The prophet of Israel is one who speaks for God; he doesn’t give his own message, but carries God’s message, God’s word. In Ezekiel, God says to the prophet:

You shall say to them: ‘Thus says the Lord God!’
Ezekiel 2:4

That phrase—Thus says the Lord God—echoes throughout the Book of the Prophet Ezekiel. Over and over again he repeats the message of God to the people of Israel.

And the message of Ezekiel is the same message we find in all of the prophets. They are constantly calling the people back to fidelity with God, and faithfulness to the covenant He had made with them. But more than that, they also carried the message of God’s love and His plan for the future of Israel; they brought to the people a message of hope.

It has been said that the Book of the Prophet Ezekiel begins with doom and ends with consolation and hope. He addresses the people during one of the darkest times in the history of their nation, but the book ends with a restored Israel, and a New Jerusalem.

That is the message of the prophets; and it is the background for the Gospel we heard this morning. Christ enters the synagogue at Nazareth with that message of fidelity to God and a vision of hope. And it is precisely as prophet that He is rejected. He says as much in the Gospel:

A prophet is not without honor except in his native place and among his own kin and in his own house.
—Mark 6:4

Christ as prophet is not something we usually recognize ourselves. We see Him as the Son of God, for that is who He is; or as the second person of the Blessed Trinity, and so He is. But Christ is the quintessential Prophet, as well. Not only does He carry God’s message and God’s word; He is that message, He is the Word itself (John 1:1,14).

St. John of the Cross says that in Christ, the Word made flesh, God has already told us everything we could possibly need to know:

In giving us His Son, His only Word (for He possesses no other), He spoke everything to us at once in this sole Word—and he has no more to say.
—Ascent of Mount Carmel, II, Ch. 22, #3

Everything that God wants to say to us about faithfulness and truth is found in Christ. Everything that God wants to say about grace and mercy and forgiveness is found in Christ. Everything that we need to know about hope and eternal life is found in Christ.

That is why He is the quintessential prophet; there will never be a prophet on this earth greater than He. But we believe that there will be prophets as effective and as powerful as Christ. In fact, we believe that God has called us to be those prophets!

Does that sound a little over the top to you? Nonetheless, the teachings of our faith and the Second Vatican Council speak about how we—as baptized members of the Body of Christ—are called to share in the prophetic mission of Christ. We are called to be witnesses speaking for God in this world.

The same Christ who spoke in the synagogues and in the streets of Jerusalem still desires to speak to the people of our own day and age, and He wants to use us to do it. We are called to be the voice of Christ in the world we live in.

But you are probably asking yourself: How could I ever be an Ezekiel? How could I possibly be a Jeremiah or an Isaiah? Without God’s help it is impossible. But God gives us the grace and strength we need to make His message heard.

The Second Vatican Council spoke of two ways that happens. The first is something all of us are quite familiar with: The Christian Family. The family focused on Christ is—in and of itself—prophetic. Marriage and family life is the place where Christianity can flourish. It is where forgiveness and the will to overlook faults and failures is practiced. It is where Christians find the strength to push forward through the difficult times, holding onto a life of faith and trust in God. The Council Fathers go on to say:

In such a home husbands and wives find their proper vocation in being witnesses of the faith and love of Christ to one another and to their children. The Christian family loudly proclaims both the present virtues of the Kingdom of God and the hope of a blessed life to come. Thus by its example and its witness it accuses the world of sin and enlightens those who seek the truth.
Lumen Gentium, #35

And secondly, we are called to be prophets in this world not only through the Christian family but also by bearing witness to Christ in the ordinary circumstances of life.

God wants to reach out and touch the people all around us who never come to this Church. He wants to reach those with whom we work, those we see in the market or at the mall, men and women we encounter on a daily basis who have never heard or truly understood the Gospel message.

God wants to tell them about His mercy and forgiveness, His message of hope for them to spend all eternity with Him. And He wants us to be the ones that bring them that message by the way we live (our example) and through the words we use. St. Francis of Assisi was known to say: “Preach the Gospel always, and use words when necessary.”

Let us be faithful in that prophetic mission this week, and not be concerned with acceptance or rejection; failure or success. We are simply called to be the messengers, and the results belong to God.

As we heard in the Gospel this morning, Christ was rejected in that synagogue in Nazareth. Ezekiel and most all the other prophets were rejected at one point or another. We are not called to gauge our own success as prophets. We are simply called to be faithful.

But in our lives this week, might it be said about us what God says about the prophet Ezekiel in our first reading:

“Whether they heed or resist . . . they shall know
that a prophet has been among them.”
—Ezekiel 2:5