Romans 3:21-30; Luke 11:47-54
Although the Hebrew bible and Christian Old Testament are very similar with regard to the books they contain, they are structured quite differently. In the Old Testament the prophets come at the end, just before the New Testament. Placing them there emphasizes the prophets’ role as looking forward to the coming of Christ. In the Hebrew bible, however, the prophetic books come much closer to the Torah, or the first 5 books of the bible. This placement emphasizes the prophets’ role of looking back, reflecting on the Law and urging people to live it out in their daily lives.
This role of reflection and exhortation made the prophets very much the conscience of Jewish society. The voice of the voiceless, the champion of the downtrodden, they spoke the word of God in words of men. While this made the prophets popular to some, the feeling was not universal; others, like the powerful and influential who were threatened by the cries for justice, found them irritating and troublesome. This is why in the gospel today Jesus refers to the blood of the prophets (Luke 11:50); at least a few tyrants thought the best way to deaden the social conscience was to kill those speaking it.
But God is not so easily dismissed; for every voice silenced, another made itself heard. This was most perfectly the case for Christ, whose voice not only echoed through the prophets but rang through the hills and valleys of Israel in his earthly ministry and continues to ring in the words of the Scriptures he gave the world.
In the first reading, St. Paul reflects on the foundation of equality preached by the prophets, as regards both sin and righteousness. As he reminds us, sin is no one’s private property; it is the shared condition of all humanity. But the remedy for it also equally applies; slave and king alike share in the righteousness bestowed as the gift of the Father, given through the blood of his Son, in the love that is the Holy Spirit. This is the love Christ most wants us to have for it is the life of God himself (1 John 4:16), given that we may have life in abundance (John 10:10).
Of course, the abundant life requires listening to the prophetic voice within that urges a selfless life of God first, others next, and ourselves as servants of all. Like the scribes and Pharisees in today’s gospel it is tempting to want to silence that voice in favor of the comfort and complacence of the status quo. But in his merciful love Jesus assumed the role of prophet to forcefully remind them – and us – that every time we fail to be the voice of the voiceless, champion of the downtrodden, or justice for the oppressed, every time we hear his law of love in our hearts but refuse to live it out in our lives, we keep ourselves from God and worse, keep others away as well.
St. Ignatius of Antioch understood this. The depths of divine love moved him to be one of those of whom Christ said, I will send to them prophets and apostles… (Luke 11:49a). Sent to oversee the Christian faithful as bishop of Antioch, Ignatius tirelessly preached the truth of the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist as well as the necessity of accepting the faith as it was handed down by the Apostles. Ignatius had such deep faith in Christ that he chose to remain with him despite the conclusion of that same verse: … some of them they will kill and persecute (Luke 11:49b). Preferring to die rather than betray Christ, Ignatius was brought to Rome and martyred around the year 115.
We as disciples must be ready for the acceptance and rejection that our role as prophet brings. This is what faith demands, for it is not faith in ourselves or our ability to move hearts but in the One who has justified, commissioned, and sent us, and in whose name we do all that we do. Let us pray that like St. Ignatius of Antioch we never lose heart in the face of persecution or rejection, but rather redouble our efforts at living out the gospel, that through us many are called to the repentance and salvation that only Christ can offer.
St. Ignatius of Antioch, pray for us.