Sunday, March 22, 2009

Fr. Matthias Neuman's homily for the 4th Sunday of Lent

1. Last week we explored how Baptism gave us a share in the priestly office of Christ. Today we see how that sacrament also gives us a share in the prophetic ministry of Jesus Christ. "The holy People of God shares also in Christ’s prophetic office. It spread abroad a living witness to him, especially by means of a life of faith and charity and by offering to God a sacrifice of praise, the tribute of lips which give praise to his name." (LG #12) Jesus is a prophet in many ways, and we share in all of them. But we want to see which way is most important.

2. I think sometimes today we have very skewed notions of the prophetic role. For example, we can think of the prophet as one who rather glamourously stands up against the institution and the powers that be. The prophet is the one who has the courage "to tell it like it is." In the heady post-Vatican II years the prophet was the rebel who called for new ways of doing things. With that image we all can have a little feeling of pride when someone calls us a prophet.

3. But the ministry of Jesus shows us that the heart of the prophetic task is far different from all that. The prophet is one who speaks a comforting word to the neglected, forgotten and downtrodden members of society. The prophet says to these marginal individuals: "God still cares for you." The word prophet means literally, "to speak for." The prophet speaks for God and brings the word of God to those who are usually overlooked. In speaking a comforting and healing word to the lepers, the blind, the lame, the possessed, the prostitutes and tax collectors Jesus was carrying out his prophetic role. And it’s THAT prophetic role that is most important in what we have received in baptism.

4. There are certainly other aspects to the traditional prophetic office in Israel and Jesus does participate in these. He does make known the "signs of the times" (Mt 16:2f). His attitude towards accepted (but unreflected) customs is a critical one. He is often severe to those who are authorities, especially when they are guilty of religious hypocrisy (Mt 15:7) and ignore the lowlier members of society. But these are all subservient to the main characteristic of the prophetic office, to speak a comforting word to the neglected, forgotten and downtrodden members of society and the church, to say to these individuals "God still cares for you." It is very possible to be prophetic without all the public fanfare of standing up to the authorities.

5. In fact, most of you carry out that central prophetic role in very quiet and unassuming ways. In speaking a kind word to people at the food pantry, in going out of your way to speak a reassuring word to one of your students facing a difficult family situation, in a welcoming word spoken to guests here at the monastery, in taking the time to speak an encouraging word to a co-worker who is facing hard decisions. This is where you carry on the prophetic office of Jesus. You say to all of these people: "God still cares for you." Let’s take some time now to reflect on that and reaffirm our commitment to it.

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