John the Baptist was a prophet. According to Jim Wallis, the founder of Sojourners, the role of the prophet is twofold: naming the idols of any given age and calling people back to God. John the Baptist is in the prophetic hall of fame because he excelled in both. His message of repentance and his lifestyle have been the source of inspiration down through the ages.
Another quality of prophets, encouragement, is found in Isaiah, who reminds us time and time again that God is operative in history and is active in redeeming the human race. Be it opening the eyes of the blind or the ears of the deaf, be it healing the lame or assisting the mute to speak, God is our strength, our vindication and our salvation. Jesus incarnates this redemptive work. He lived out the vision of Isaiah and, by so doing, strengthened the faith of John the Baptist.
Isaiah spoke words of encouragement: “Be strong, fear not!” Our fears are many and at times paralyzing. Both Isaiah and St. Paul call us to focus, not on our own resources, but on the presence of God in our lives. Here is the cause for hope, yes, for rejoicing. God not only creates and redeems us, God also sanctifies and strengthens us. Our God is faithful and the prophets proclaimed this faithfulness.
Confronting the truth of things is a great ministry, even though at times quite painful. Prophets are truth tellers and when heeded are also freedom bringers. Lies, delusions and myths throw us into darkness and confusion. And there is no peace or justice in this way of life.
In the Letter of St. James, prophets are held up as a good example of individuals who embrace hardships and demonstrate patience. John the Baptist knew the hardship of being in prison and facing execution. Perhaps an even greater trial was the uncertainty about whether or not Jesus was truly the one to come. John the Baptist was wrestling with doubt as he faced the mystery of death. Jesus sent a message back confirming that he was the one to come and already the kingdom was being realized through his healing and reconciling ministry.
Romano Guardini comments: “To be a prophet is to know the meaning behind all events, to interpret them from God’s perspective.” What a noble, lofty vocation! Indeed, what a dangerous one. Just ask John the Baptist.
Questions for reflection
1. What is your understanding of the prophetic vocation?
2. Do all baptized people have a prophetic role to play?
3. Who is your favorite prophet and why?
Bishop Morneau is the auxiliary bishop of the Green Bay Diocese and pastor of Resurrection Parish in Allouez.