As I had grown up in the 70’s and 80’s, when someone was described as “a prophet,” I usually pictured a cartoon-like hippie with a robe and long beard carrying a sign stating, “The end is near!” Prophets had often been portrayed as people who were a bit strange and who predicted a future of doom and gloom. When I began working with adults and children preparing for baptism, however, I gained a deeper and more significant appreciation of the term. Did you know that when each of us was anointed with oil at our baptism we were consecrated as “priest, prophet and king?” A serious blessing for an adult let alone a child.
When we are anointed “priest,” we become the body of Christ; the physical person through which others encounter and experience the risen Christ. As “king,” we are anointed with the responsibility to look after the well-being of our fellow humanity. As “prophet,” we are strengthened in our mandate to become messengers of God’s truth in all that we say and do. In other words, a prophet isn’t a predictor of the future, but is someone who is a voice and advocate for God’s message to love, forgive, and seek justice and peace.
Even though we are all called by our baptism to live out this three-fold mission, we’ve all come to know of people who have excelled at this mission in a profound way. Modern-day prophets like Mother Teresa, Martin Luther King Jr. and Pope Francis continue to emerge within our world to remind us that there is still much work to be done before all people are able to live out fully their God-given potential and dignity. In their mission to be messengers of God’s love and truth, prophets aren’t always the most popular people because they make us look at our priorities and attitudes with an honesty that can make us uncomfortable. It’s been said that “a prophet comforts the afflicted and afflicts the comfortable.” They often bring into the light our selfish instinct to hoard and protect our privileges and they help us to open our eyes to how some of our comforts come at a detrimental cost to others. They call us to change in ways we’re not always happy to give up. We have all become familiar with leaders of government and institutions who distort the truth for their own benefit or the benefit of a privileged few and if we are counted among those privileged, we can easily become convinced of the validity of their message. That is why our world will always need prophets who have the courage and conviction to speak out for those who are overlooked, rejected or abused by these false messages. While a prophet whose message is rooted in God’s truth may not always be perfect, their message tends to be persistent and they speak, as Jesus did in today’s gospel, with an authority and an integrity that is difficult to ignore. In the first reading, God assures us through Moses that God will never abandon us in a world of distorted truths and unjust leadership, but will always raise up prophets from among us to challenge us and help us to remain faithful to God’s message of love, justice and peace.
“Prophets may make us angry and uncomfortable, but out of this discomfiture comes a self-awareness, a God-awareness and other-awareness.” * Once we are made aware, our baptism calls us to act; trusting that God is always there guiding and encouraging us.
*Patricia Sanchez “Celebration”