‘Prepare the way of the Lord’ (Mark 1 :3)
There is probably no Judaeo-Christian concept more widely misunderstood than that of prophecy. In the popular mind , for instance, it’s something closely akin to fortune telling. It’s sort of like faith-based tarot card reading. Even many people of faith hold a similar view. A rapidly growing American religious body, in fact, teaches that a prophet is genuine to the extent that his predictions come to pass. Another, noted for doorbell-ringing, believes the accuracy of scriptural outlines for the future to be a cool 100 percent.
The problem with this popular notion, of course, is that prophecy in the scriptures has nothing to do with soothsaying. Far from laying out some program for the future, the prophets of our tradition proclaim what the Lord is doing right now, even as they urge God’s people to take an active part in his work.
John the baptizer, in today’s gospel, functions clearly within this model. He proclaims God’s new, present work of leading faithful people to repentance and freeing them from captivity to selfishness, “proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins” (Mark 1:4). At the same time, he invites hearers to follow Jesus, even now coming into the world. This is surely he, proclaims John whose sandals “I am not worthy to stoop down and untie.” It is Jesus through whom life in its fullness is now given, for “he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit” (1:7-8).
Prophecy, understood in this way, certainly didn ‘t come to an end with the closing of the scriptural canon. In fact, prophets are present in the modern world. Martin Luther King, Jr., rightly perceived the Lord working for racial equality throughout this land – and he successfully persuaded millions of people to join in that clearly divine mission. Mother Teresa, in the midst of tremendous doubts about her own faith, managed to see God’s hand at work among the poorest of the poor in Kolkata. By the time of her death, her Missionaries of Charity numbered some 5,000 female and 450 male religious joining God in that work And neither is true prophecy limited to the Christian community. Tenzin Gyatso, the Dali Lama, for instance, sees clearly God’s striving for peace among people everywhere, and his example, on a daily basis, leads countless others to become peacemakers with God.
Prophets in the tradition of John the baptizer are active today in the Church as well as in the world at large. Today’s gospel calls us to identify and follow them, and so join in God’s own work.
Look it Up Why is teaching about the so-called “rapture” really not prophetic ?
Think About It
Who might qualify as prophets in the Church and in the world today? Why?