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Way more than a divinely sanctioned fortune-teller


What is this Jesus?

All were amazed and asked one another,
“What is this?
A new teaching with authority.
He commands even the unclean spirits and they obey him.”
His fame spread everywhere throughout the whole region of Galilee.
—Mark 1:27-28

When many people hear the word “prophet,” they imagine someone who is essentially a divinely sanctioned fortune-teller. But, if we look at the full story of salvation as it is presented in the Bible, we recognize that prophets were just as concerned with the here and now as they were with the world to come. In fact, it was the prophets’ special mission to help the people recognize the truth about themselves and the world around them, especially calling them to the see how their words and actions impacted their relationships with God and others. Prophets told the truth. Because of this, prophets were often hated, especially by people in power.

In the First Reading proclaimed this Sunday, God promises to raise up a new prophet in the spirit of Moses. And, like Moses, this great prophet will be one who will speak God’s truth, leading the people to the freedom of the Reign of God. As we know, many prophets come after Moses (think of the “major” prophets—Ezekiel, Jeremiah, Isaiah, and Daniel—or “minor” prophets like Amos, Haggai, and Micah), but we see this promise being fulfilled in Jesus himself, a prophet who preaches and teaches with authority and who has power to cast out evil spirits, symbolizing his power to free the people from the forces that enslave them.

In his book, Fully Human, Fully Divine, Cistercian Father Michael Casey reflects,

Much more than the other evangelists, Mark is at pains to present Jesus as a teacher. Jesus’ perception of the most urgent need of the people is that they lack care and guidance … Jesus was for his disciples, and can be for us, a teacher who imparts himself rather than some external knowledge or expertise. Nobody else can reproduce the power inherent in Jesus’ teaching.

Jesus’ words have the power to heal and make whole. They invite us into a new way of engaging God and the world. To allow Jesus’ words to penetrate our hearts means that we are willing to accept him as our teacher in faith and in all of life. We, in turn, commit ourselves to following his teachings as students—disciples—who make his message and way of life our own. In the weeks to come, we will see this dynamic at work as we hear more of Mark’s Gospel.

Imitating Jesus, our prophet and teacher, also means that we have to be willing to live as prophets and teachers in our world today. The Second Vatican Council reminded us that every Christian is called to pursue holiness and each is called to “manifest in their ordinary work the love with which God has loved the World” (Lumen Gentium, 41).

To understand what this means, we can think of modern-day prophets like Blessed Oscar Romero, Martin Luther King, Jr., Sister Dorothy Stang, and St. Teresa of Kolkata. They were able to look at the realities—the truth—of the world around them and recognize those elements which were opposed to God’s loving plan. Their willingness to speak out against injustice and oppression took its toll on them, but think about what our world would be like today if these faith-filled women and men had not been courageous enough to tell the truth?

As Pope Francis reminded us this week in his Message for World Communications Day,

Truth involves our whole life. In the Bible, it carries with it the sense of support, solidity, and trust, as implied by the root ‘aman, the source of our liturgical expression Amen. Truth is something you can lean on, so as not to fall. In this relational sense, the only truly reliable and trustworthy One – the One on whom we can count – is the living God. Hence, Jesus can say: “I am the truth” (John 14:6). We discover and rediscover the truth when we experience it within ourselves in the loyalty and trustworthiness of the One who loves us. This alone can liberate us: “The truth will set you free” (John 8:32).

Our readings this Sunday remind us that we share the vocation to be prophets and teachers of the truth, naming blessings where they can be found and calling for justice where it is absent.

How do we see Jesus acting as a prophet in the Gospels?

How are you being invited to speak a prophetic word in the world? In the Church? Within your family?

As we hear so much about “fake news,” how can you help lift up and celebrate the truth as part of living out your commitment as a disciple?

Words of Wisdom: “Around Jesus there was life stirring. Something worked within Him: in the words He spoke, giving them life, power over mind and heart; in the commands from his lips, through the gestures of his hand; no one could resist … This power within Him spoke out some message wherever there was suffering and tribulation, making people come to Him and find relief. It brought peace and drove away the Power of Darkness.”—Romano Guardini, Jesus Christus: A Classic Meditation on Christ

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