As we saw last week, we are moving swiftly to the end of this Liturgical Year. Jesus is turning up the heat, if you will, by raising our awareness about what is vital and what will be swept away at the end of the “age.”

Malachi sets the tone in the First Reading with “Lo” — a Biblical equivalent to watch out! Be on guard! Pay attention because this is serious! “Lo, the day is coming; blazing like an oven when all the proud and all evildoers will be stubble, and the day that is coming will set them on fire.” Remember that Malachi is the last of the First Testament prophets. He serves as a bridge to the New Testament; the next prophet we hear is John the Baptist, blazing in the Judean desert, calling the people to return to God’s path. Both Malachi and John seek to open the hearts and minds of the people to see what God desires for them. The prophets are inviting them back to faithfulness with God, promising God’s presence and pardon. Malachi reassures the people, by declaring, “But for you who fear my name, there will arise the sun of justice with its healing rays.”

For us, as Christians, the “sun of justice” is Jesus, God’s Son and healing presence for us. Yet, Sunday’s Gospel feels like more fire than healing. Jesus takes on the role of the prophet. He foretells the fall of the temple. This would have sounded as total devastation and catastrophe, like the news of the bombing of the Vatican would sound for us. Now, Jesus has their attention! He speaks of other terrifying events — wars, natural disasters, persecutions. But what is the point of this horror movie-like scene that Jesus is depicting? Certainly, Jesus is claiming his role as a prophet, who comes to warn the people of impending disaster if they wouldn’t change their ways.

But prophets also sought to deepen the people’s understanding of God’s love and forgiveness. Jesus has spent his ministry showing that God is compassionate and merciful to all — not just to those who are seen as worthy — but especially to those who have fallen outside of the law, those who are seen as outcasts and sinners. Another hallmark of the prophet is to issue warnings to treat the poor with justice. Jesus’ parables and lifestyle reinforced his solidarity with the poor and his call to live simply and justly so that all could live as human beings. Prophets also gave the people hope for the future. While Sunday’s Gospel does not begin on a hopeful note, it ends with Jesus promising that amid all the turmoil, “not a hair of your head will be destroyed.” Luke makes it abundantly clear that Jesus is fulfilling the role of prophet!

What does all this have to say to us? In Baptism, we have been commissioned to be priest, prophet and king: “Just as Jesus was anointed priest, prophet and king, so may you live always as a member of his body sharing everlasting life.” Are these simply honorific titles or poetic liturgical flourishes? Not at all! They are integral to discipleship. We are called into active participation in the Church and in our spiritual life. Being a Catholic is not a spectator sport! It is a call, an immersion into total participation — in the sacraments, in the corporal and spiritual works of mercy and in Catholic Social Teaching. The demands of our prophetic role are summarized in the Prophetic Torah of Micah — “This is what I require of you, O human, to act justly, to love tenderly and to walk humbly with your God.” (Micah 6:8) The role of king or queen is not a role of glory and honor, but a role of service. “If you want to be the first you must take the role of the last — be the very slave of the others.” Leadership in our faith is the way to be the servant of all.

Malachi and Jesus both bring the message of the day ablaze with the fire of God’s love and justice. We are called to be a light set on a hill — a light of passion for mercy. The end of our Liturgical Year is going out in a blaze of glory! Will we set our lives on fire with Jesus’ love?