Friday, June 24, 2011

Prophesying In The Spirit Of John the Baptizer

"Now the time came for Elizabeth to give birth, and she bore a son. Her neighbours and relatives heard that the Lord had shown his great mercy to her, and they rejoiced with her.

On the eighth day they came to circumcise the child, and they were going to name him Zechariah after his father. But his mother said, ‘No; he is to be called John.’ They said to her, ‘None of your relatives has this name.’ Then they began motioning to his father to find out what name he wanted to give him. He asked for a writing-tablet and wrote, ‘His name is John.’ And all of them were amazed. Immediately his mouth was opened and his tongue freed, and he began to speak, praising God. Fear came over all their neighbours, and all these things were talked about throughout the entire hill country of Judea. All who heard them pondered them and said, ‘What then will this child become?’ For, indeed, the hand of the Lord was with him...The child grew and became strong in spirit, and he was in the wilderness until the day he appeared publicly to Israel." (Lk 1:57-66; 80)

We notice a sense of rejoicing in this Gospel passage over the fact that God extends and shares God's mercy. Zechariah can exclaim: "God has looked favorably on [God's] people and redeemed them. He has raised up a mighty savior for he spoke through the mouth of holy prophets..." (1:68), or as the old Douay version reads, "God has visited and wrought redemption on his people..." We are daughters and sons of the Holy One, prophets. The Word has returned with a showing of signs!

The name John means "God has granted a favor/prayer". He initiates the time of the Promised One. All the signs are there: joy, rapidly-spreading news, astonishment, a time of fruitfulness, the prophetic word is again heard, and God's presence responds to every human need.

In earlier centuries, Israel had experienced the mighty acts and powerful influence of their great prophets. Later, it seemed, God became silent and the prophets were mute. Israel was a "non-prophet" organization (!), so to speak, even though there was hope that the word of God would make itself heard in the time of the Messiah's coming. Luke sees that John, precisely, is fulfilling all the preceding prophetic vocations: Hosea, Jeremiah, Ezechiel, and Isaiah. He is the prophet of the final age, inaugurating a new line of prophets: the members of the Church of Pentecost.

John helps us understand that a prophet isn't primarily one who foretells the future. Rather, a prophet is one who stands in God's stead and witnesses to the life-giving presence of God's Word, through preaching, or witness, or obedience to that Word which is uttered by the Spirit of God: the powerful, creative Word.

For the New Covenant prophets, vision lies in examining the present event, wherever and whatever, and lucidly grasping the relationship of love which God intends to have with humankind in those circumstances. All of us share in the gift of prophesying, according to the place and role each has in the Body of Christ, according to how each develops her or his talent. We're each called to interpret the events, "the signs", as Jesus called them, of our times, through the eyes of faith. Authentic faith is dynamic. It always helps the Church to act as a light to the nations, as Zechariah implies. Many holy women and men through the centuries and down to the present have prophesied in the spirit of John the Baptizer. Unfortunately, their "batting average" may seem to be a bit low at times. Nevertheless, through our living faith we still go on, move forward, bearing in mind the words of one of the great modern prophets, Blessed John XXIII, who said: "Ever ready to love people, I stand by the law of the Gospel.

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