4th Sunday Year B
Am I a prophet of God? Why and why not?
In the Old Testament, there were many great prophets – Samuel, Nathan, Elijah, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Daniel, and many more. These prophets are attentive to God’s word and speak His word to the people, calling for conversion, repentance and faith in God. In the New Testament, Jesus came as a priest, prophet and king. And curiously, both in the New Testament and these modern times, we do not hear much about prophets anymore. Why is this the case?
In the First Reading, God promised the people that He will raise up a prophet, one that speaks God’s word (verse 18). Who is this prophet? Let us contemplate. In New Testament times, we read of men and women prophesying when the Holy Spirit descended upon them. When Mary visited her cousin Elizabeth, “Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit and exclaimed with a loud cry, ‘Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb.’” (Lk 1:41-42) And again, when the Holy Spirit descended upon the Apostles on Pentecost Day, they began to speak of “God’s deeds of power” (Acts 2:11). Before Jesus was taken into heaven, He commanded the disciples to baptise all nations “in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” (Mt 28:19). We know that at our baptism, the Holy Spirit descended upon us. So, where do we go to seek out the modern day prophet? My brothers and sisters, seek no longer. In truth, while “prophet” is a title given to a very select few in the Old Testament, in these post-incarnation times, all who have been baptised are called to be prophets of God. Jesus assumes the three-fold office priest, prophet and king. Hence, all baptised share in Jesus’ prophetic office. Like the prophets of the Old Testaments, we are tasked with calling others to conversion, repentance and faith in God. If all baptised are called to be prophet, what kind of prophet am I called to be? In the First Reading, God calls us to be his prophet by speaking His command: “I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their own people; I will put my words in the mouth of the prophet, who shall speak to them everything that I command.” Alas, in this era of fake news, there are many who abuse their gifts of the Holy Spirit. Instead of speaking God’s truth, they spread lies, hatred, vengefulness and suspicion. Have I been such a false prophet? In my social circle, have I harshly judged another person and injure his or her reputation? In church, when a capable person steps forward to serve God, because of my pride or insecurity, have I acted as an obstacle to thwarting his or her effort? In the office, to cover up my mistake, have I engaged in acts of deception through lies, blame-shifting and misdirection? At home, have I hurt those I love with harsh words?
Beyond our personal space, we see false prophets at work every day in our relativist society. There are those who promote freedom, but are talking about freedom to terminate the lives of the elderly, the sick and the unborn. There are those who promote love, but are talking are about perverted sexual love outside marriage, between two person of the same sex, and even polygamous and incestuous relationships. Lured by popularist sentiments and the false pretence of freedom and love, have I been fooled into supporting such false notions of freedom and love? Perhaps even more devious are those who purport to be speaking in God’s name but are misquoting Scripture to spread falsehood. These are taking a leaf out of the playbook of the devil himself. For when the devil tried to tempt Jesus into sin, the devil too quoted Scripture (Mt 4:1-11). Let us heed this warning from the Old Testament: “But any prophet who speaks in the name of other gods, or who presumes to speak in my name a word that I have not commanded the prophet to speak – that prophet shall die.” (First Reading, verse 20)
So, how can I be a prophet that proclaim the truth? Firstly, we have to pray, contemplate and discern God’s word constantly. The Latin phrase “Nemo dat quod non habet” holds true. We cannot give to others what we do not possess ourselves. To be a good prophet that speak God’s truth, we need to engage in constant reflection and formation ourselves.
Secondly, we need to pick the right moment to exercise our prophetic work. In the parable of the sower (Mt 13:3-9), the same seeds fell on the path, on rocky ground, among thorns and on good soil. Not all yielded good fruits. Sometimes, even when we are well-formed, well-prepared and give an insightful reflection, not everyone in our audience is touched by God. Sometimes, the problem lies not in the message but in the listener. This is why the prophet must always be open to the prompting of the Holy Spirit, so that I may speak the right word at the right time and in the right context.
Thirdly, a true prophet never draw attention to himself or herself, but glorify God in everything that he or she does. Otherwise, as the prophet draws attention to himself or herself, human weakness and pride set in. And soon, the prophet is no longer working for the glory of God but for his/her own glory. The other danger of personal fame and glory is, they can become obstacles to the prophet’s work. How so? Take Jesus’ experience in this week Gospel. Before He cleansed a man of an unclean spirit, the spirit shrieked, “I know who you are, the Holy One of God.” (verse 24). As a result of the uncleaned spirit’s revelation, Jesus’ fame began to spread (verse 28). Jesus’ fame became an obstacle to His work. Everyone searched out for Him (Mk 1:37), dictating his schedule and actions (Mk 1:32-33). As a result, Jesus had to go to another neighbouring town (Mk 1:38). This is perhaps why after the incident in this week’s Gospel, in subsequent exorcisms he performed, Jesus “would not permit the demons to speak” (Mk 1:34).
Last but not least, to convey an efficacious message, a prophet is sometimes called upon to undertake personal sacrifice. Jesus our True Prophet went to the cross so that we may witness with our own eyes the extent of God’s love. And for a selected group of prophets, God gifted them with the very special grace of celibacy. This is why though we are all called to be messengers of God, our priests are given a particularly special role in that. Anointed by God, the ordained priest is given a special charism in celibacy. Sure, celibacy is a great personal sacrifice. It is also a great charism given to only a few. In the Second Reading, St Paul exulted the virtue of celibacy. Celibacy is not only St Paul’s way of life, but it is also Jesus’. Jesus himself values celibacy, he exulted those “who have made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven” (Mt 19:12). Far from being a suppressive imposition, as St Paul explained in verse 32-34, with this charism, the celibate person’s interest is undivided, devoted solely to the affairs of the Lord. For those of us who are called to celibacy, treasure this gift. It is God’s special gift and charism. And because it is such a powerful gift of God, the devil will always seek to disrupt and destroy – and lust is a powerful temptation that the devil uses. For the rest of us who are not given the gift of celibacy, we are nevertheless called to exercise sacrifices in our own way. For by our sacrifice, we complete Jesus’ sufferings (Col 1:24) and join our prophetic work with his.
May Christ our Emmanuel be with us as we go forth, spreading the Good News and be courageous prophets of God in these challenging times. Amen.