12/8/2011 10:01:00 AM WORD OF FAITH Recognizing a prophet
BY REV. ROGER KARBAN
FROM A READING FOR DEC. 11, THIRD SUNDAY OF ADVENT 'I am the voice of one crying in the wilderness, "Make straight the way of the Lord"....' - John 1:23
It's difficult to conceive of Jesus, as God, having models for His earthly ministry. Yet in chapter 4 of his Gospel, Luke doesn't hesitate to have Jesus make the first part of Sunday's Third-Isaiah reading (Isaiah 61:1-2a,10-11) an outline of what He plans to accomplish during His ministry.
Reflecting on his own call, the prophet confidently proclaims, "The spirit of Yahweh God is upon me, because Yahweh has anointed me; He has sent me to bring glad tidings to the poor, to heal the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to captives and release to the prisoners, to announce a year of favor from Yahweh and a day of vindication by our God."
The historical Jesus obviously sees His own ministry as overlapping Third-Isaiah's ministry. The carpenter from Capernaum is convinced Yahweh has also sent Him to liberate the oppressed.
Through His ministry, the beaten-down of this world will be lifted up. Because of the reference to "a year of favor from Yahweh," they'll be given the opportunity to start their lives over again.
According to Jewish law, every 50th year was a jubilee year when debts were cancelled and property returned to its original owners. Everyone begins with a clean slate.
But there's a price to pay: Third-Isaiah expects those recently freed from exile to leave the security which 50 years of living in that rather plush foreign environment has provided. They're to return to a Jerusalem in ruins, rebuilding it and its temple.
In a parallel way, the Gospel Jesus expects His liberated followers to spend their lives imitating His dying and rising. In Sunday's I Thessalonians (5:16-24) passage, Paul tries to concretize that imitation: "Rejoice always. Pray without ceasing. In all circumstances give thanks, for this is the will of God for you in Christ Jesus."
There's also an obligation to constantly be open to God's will: "Do not quench the Spirit. Do not despise prophetic utterances. Test everything; retain what is good. Refrain from every kind of evil."
The warning about despising prophetic utterances is important. Biblical people normally surfaced God's will by surfacing the prophets in their communities, through whom God showed how the liberation of the downtrodden was to take place.
This early Christian insistence on the importance of prophecy also seems to play a role in the evangelist's insistence that it was a prophet, John the Baptizer, who first pointed out the significance of Jesus.
Like all true prophets, the Baptizer continually turns the spotlight away from himself. John the Gospel writer sums up the Baptizer's prophetic ministry (John 1:6-8,19-28): "He was not the light, but came to testify to the light."
Experts on John's Gospel frequently point to one of his main themes: Though Jesus is the Word and Son of God among us, most people never discover His presence.
That's why the Baptizer is quoted as saying, "There is one among you whom you do not recognize, the one who is coming after me, whose sandal strap I am not worthy to untie."
Just as people once failed to recognize God in an itinerant preacher from Galilee, many today fail to recognize the risen Jesus in the world's outcasts. Prophets continually point out that presence. Recognizing and listening to our prophets is the first step in achieving God's liberating plan.