- This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him (Mt. 17:5)
It was the Israelites’ wish that they not be communicated to directly by the Lord. Granting their wish, the Lord raised up a prophet for them from among their own kinsmen (Dt. 18:16-18).
Moses himself, of course—the one who informed the people of God’s disposition—was such a prophet. It is said that never again did there arise in Israel a prophet like him, “whom the Lord knew face to face,” equal to no one “in all the signs and wonders the Lord sent him to perform in the land of Egypt against Pharaoh and all his servants and against all his land, and for the might and the terrifying power that Moses exhibited in the sight of all Israel” (Dt.34:10-11). It was to him first that the frightened and trembling Israelites pledged to listen, saying: “You speak to us, and we will listen; but let not God speak to us, or we shall die” (Ex. 20:19).
Yet greater than Moses and all the other prophets—we Christians believe—is Jesus. To Jesus refer Moses and the prophets (Lk. 24:27, 44; Jn. 1:17-18, 45; 5:45-46; Acts 3:22; 26:22). Giving more than just the Mosaic law, for through him come grace and truth, God’s only Son, who is at the Father’s side, reveals the God no one has ever seen and thus fulfills both the law and the prophets (Jn. 1:17-18; Mt. 5:17-18; 17:1-8; Heb. 1:1-4). If God entrusted his house to Moses as his servant, God entrusts his house to Jesus as his Son (Num. 12:7-8; Heb. 3:1-6). Through Moses’ mediation, manna was given by God for people to eat; but they still died. Jesus, on the other hand, is himself the living bread from heaven so that people may eat and not die (Jn. 6:48-51). With his own blood, which is true drink, Jesus ratifies the new covenant, and his priesthood and his covenant surpass the priesthood and covenant of Moses (Heb. 8). And given the superiority of Jesus, of his priesthood too and covenant, a greater attention and a more faithful response are demanded of us (cf. Heb. 10:26-29). Jesus’ teaching with authority in the manner of prophets who made absolute claims on their hearers, and not in the manner of the scribes who appealed to authority other than themselves, should indeed elicit from us astonishment.
Sadly, however, just as the tribute and the pledge given to the greatest figure of Jewish history did not always translate into actual obedience, our belief in the superiority of Jesus, along with our extolling of it, does not always spell dedication to the Lord that is undivided and without distraction. Could the lack of dedication be due in part to the Lord’s return appearing more and more distant with every passing day and his presence being less and less palpable everyday? If this is the case, then the following reminder from Vatican II well be in order (SC 7):
- To accomplish so great a work, Christ is always present
- in His Church, especially in her liturgical celebrations.
- He is present in the sacrifice of the Mass, not only in
- the person of His minister, “the same now offering,
- through the ministry of priests, who formerly offered
- himself on the cross,” but especially under the Eucharistic
- species. By His power He is present in the sacraments,
- so that when a man baptizes it is really Christ Himself
- who baptizes. He is present in His word, since it is
- He Himself who speaks when the holy scriptures are read
- in the Church. He is present, lastly, when the Church
- prays and sings, for He promised: “Where two or three
- are gathered together in my name, there am I in the
- midst of them” (Matt. 18:20).
And granted, it would not help religious morale should there be a festering perception, both from the right and the left, that those who have been raised up for us from among our own kinsmen to be God’s prophets in our day and age presume to speak in God’s name oracles he has not commanded them to speak or speak in the name of other gods. In this instance, I would think, a return to the fundamental agreement that united the fractious early Christians should be helpful, an agreement that required that everyone be mindful of the poor. Such mindfulness of the poor, I dare submit, is a proof of genuine prophecy that is in the best tradition of the ancient prophets and consistent with the apostle Paul’s fidelity to tradition. Says John R. Donahue, S.J., in “Model of Persuasion,” America (November 10, 2008), p.15:
- Paul’s most enduring fidelity to tradition embraces not
- only teaching and liturgical fragments, but practice,
- mainly a concern for the poor embodied in the Jerusalem
- agreement with the “pillars”: “only we were to be
- mindful of the poor, which is the very thing I was eager
- to do” (Gal 2:10). During his missionary journeys
- he continually raises funds for the Jerusalem church
- (the poor), and his arrest and journey to Rome in chains
- is the result of his efforts to deliver the collection
- to Jerusalem.
Surely, there was no greater tribute Paul could have paid to the greatest prophet God raised up in these last days than his showing his face of compassion and his following him in his self-emptying and death in order to give life to others. This is what is celebrated in the Eucharist and, therefore, to be lived by every fully conscious and active participant.