Sunday, July 02, 2017

'Who is a prophet, and what do they do?' (Sunday homily)

Prophet Elisha, striking the River Jordan (2 Kings 2:14)
The readings raise a question about prophets.
In the first reading, we have the Prophet Elisha. 
And in the Gospel, our Lord Jesus promises that 
“whoever receives a prophet, receives a prophet’s reward.”

So the question we might consider: 
Who is a prophet, and what do they do?

Let’s start with what a prophet does. 
Contrary to what many people think, 
in the Bible, prophecy is not primarily about predicting the future.
Sometimes that is what prophets do, but not necessarily, 
and most of the time, that is not actually what they do.

The essence of a prophet is that he or she is sent to speak for God; 
to speak God’s Word. 
That is what a prophet is: the one who says, “Thus sayeth the Lord.”

In the Bible, prophets were often anointed, like kings and priests. 
And in any case, they were understood to be “anointed” 
by the Spirit of God.

All the prophets of the Old Testament, however, 
were ultimately pointers toward the final and definitive prophet, 
and that is Jesus Christ. 

In the letter to the Hebrews, it says
“In times past, God spoke in partial and various ways 
to our ancestors through the prophets” – 
but “in these last days, he spoke to us through a son.” 
Jesus, in who he is, what he says and does, 
is God’s complete and final word to humanity.

There are other religions that claim to add to what Jesus gave us. 
Mormonism claims that, and so does Islam. 
But our answer as Christians is, no, 
all that God is going to reveal to humanity, has been revealed.

So when people have visions of saints or of Mary, 
these are called “private revelation” – meaning, they don’t add anything. 
That doesn’t mean they aren’t true or worthwhile, 
but for example when Mary spoke at Fatima or Lourdes, 
she added nothing to what we already had 
from Jesus and the Apostles and the Bible.

So are there still prophets? Why does Jesus talk about them?

That brings us to what St. Paul was talking about in the second reading; 
that is, the sacrament of baptism. 

A lot of people way misunderstand what baptism really is.
They think it’s just a special sort of blessing or ritual. 
Baptism is way, way, way more than that.

In baptism, we become part of Christ, and therefore, 
we share in his office of priest, prophet, and king.
The Church is the Body of Christ;
the designated leaders of the Church, the pope and bishops, 
have the authority to teach in Jesus’ name.

But each one of us belongs to Christ, 
so each of us has a prophetic role: 
that is, to speak God’s Word and make it known.
But there’s more. This isn’t just a hat we wear on Sundays.
You and I became entirely new people in baptism. 
We were born again, as Jesus told Nicodemus.

As we just heard Paul say: 
do you not realize that when you were baptized, you died? 
You died with Christ! That means several things. 
It means that we are dying to sin and to the sinful ways of the world.
It means we are embracing Jesus’ death, 
in order to gain access to the Resurrection. 
It means we are taking up the Cross and embracing it.

This is a time to talk about something 
that happens in different ways for all of us, including me.
At some point, everyone will say, 
“God, what you’re asking of me is too hard.” And it is hard.

So God asks people to wait until marriage, 
and to remain open to the gift of life in marriage – 
meaning, no contraception.
God asks people to persevere in marriage – no remarriage.
God asks men and women who, 
because their feelings go a different way, 
to remain chaste as single people, 
if they can’t marry the opposite sex.

Yes, that’s only one of the Commandments, the Sixth.
But these particular truths are ones that, today, our Catholic Church, 
almost alone, proclaims before an incredulous world that says, 
along with many incredulous Christians who likewise say:

Where does this come from? What kind of God asks this of us?

And the answer is in today’s Gospel. The One who said:
If you want to be my disciple, take up your Cross and come with me. 
And when he said “Cross,” he didn’t mean an item of jewelry.

I don’t mean to minimize the trials and challenges. They are real.
But I am saying this to anyone who claims it can’t be true 
because it’s too hard: I don’t know what Christianity, 
what Jesus Christ, you have in mind, 
but it’s not the Jesus of the Gospels.
He never said, follow me, so long as it isn’t too demanding.
Follow me, as long as it doesn’t interfere too much.

And yet, isn’t this supposed to be Good News. 
This sounds like gloom and doom. 
Well, it is Good News, because of what else Jesus just told us:
Whoever tries to save his life will lose it,
and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.

So back to the question I posed at the beginning: Who is a prophet, and what do they do?

You and I are prophets, and what we do is face a choice for ourselves,
which we also present to the world:
Live for yourself, and in the end, that’s all you’ll have.
Live for Christ, live for others, and you will have your sins forgiven, 
a new life, both here and hereafter in the glory of heaven.

You have heard me talk about being intentional disciples, real disciples, 
and helping others to become committed disciples of Christ. 
And you’re going to keep hearing me talk about it.

That’s what this is. 
You and I were baptized into a new life, the life of the Holy Trinity. 
We were enlisted as Cross-bearers, 
marching through this life with Heaven’s Glory reflected in our gaze. 
We fall down, we get back up. 
We get insults or bruises along the way, we give a blessing and keep going.

This is what we signed up for. 
This is what it means to be a follower of Christ.

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