— The Lord’s Day —

Week 4: Sunday

Pondering Jesus’ victorious Word

εὐαγγελίζω (euaggelizo)
“to announce the Good News of victory in battle”

“The word of the LORD came to me, saying:
Before I formed you in the womb I knew you,
before you were born I dedicated (קָדַשׁ qadash) you,
a prophet (נָבִיא nabi) to the nations I appointed (נתן natan) you.

θεωρέω (theoreo)
(“to perceive, discover, ponder a deeper meaning”)

As the account of Jeremiah’s call is proclaimed this Sunday, it is wise to pose a couple of questions: who is a prophet? What does a prophet do? Popularly, many have an image of a prophet as an otherworldly guru endowed with some magic-seeing power that gives him or her an ability to predict the future as a soothsayer or fortune-teller. Fortunately for us, such is NOT the biblical prophet of Israel and it certainly does not describe the work of Jeremiah.

The biblical prophet lived and worked in a world familiar with prophecy. In the Ancient Near Eastern world practically every king or queen had a guild or a company of prophets. These prophets acted as counselors or advisors on all sorts of matters concerning day-to-day living. At times guilds of prophets contended with each other, jockeying for position and prominence in society. Many times the ‘advice’ proffered was anything but counsel – ‘advice’ amounted to nice-sounding words to secure one’s position with the reigning ruler.

In Israel, like so many other aspects of her life in the Ancient Near Eastern world, prophecy was different. Sure there was a need for counsel and advice, but prophecy had another function vital for living the Covenant. In Israel, the prophet (nabi in Hebrew) was one ‘who spoke on behalf of God.’ The prophet tended to be an individual person, not a guild or a school. Unlike the guild prophets throughout the world of that time, Israel’s nabi were called by God. Elijah, Elisha, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel – to name only a few – did not ‘join’ or sign-up to be a nabi. In fact, many of Israel’s nabi resisted and balked when called by God to speak on His behalf. Israel’s nabi also nurtured an intense, intimate relationship with God and even some of their ‘conversations’ with God sound shocking in their apparent audacity (cf. ‘The Confessions’ of Jeremiah) yet they reveal a profound relationship with God and a willingness to serve Him and the people to whom the prophet is sent.

The nabi in Israel was also a person “dedicated” by God for a particular mission. “Dedicated” translates the Hebrew (קָדַשׁ qadash). Qadash is part of a Hebrew word-group that essentially means “set apart” and eventually “set apart for a particular purpose or usage.” As such, the Hebrew root of qadash is the basis for the English word “holy.” The importance of qadash is that this is not a matter of good, better best. Because a person (or object, place) is set apart that person has a particular task or work to accomplish. It does not necessary make her or him any ‘better’ in an objective moral sense.

To accomplish the task or work that one has been “set apart for,” one requires sufficient material and means. Translated here “appoint,” the Hebrew verb נָתַן (natan) has a wide range of meanings in the Prophetic Texts of the Old Testament. The root and derivatives of natan are part of a Hebrew word-group that means “to give as a gift.” The word is used so extensively throughout the Old Testament that there are myriads of meanings associated with natan. With his ‘appointment’ from God as nabi, Jeremiah is given all that is needed to do the work for which he has been set apart. All that Jeremiah received, most especially the Word of God, was given without earning or merit: all was and remains Gift.

As linked with the Gospel episode of Jesus’ proclaiming the Word of God in Nazareth and the people’s response, it is fair to ponder, not only the gift of prophecy, but all gifts given by the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ to build-up the Body of Christ, the Church. Through Baptism, Confirmation and the Most Holy Eucharist, all have been “set apart” and “appointed” for particular missions throughout our lives, beginning with the call ‘to be holy.’ A prayer by Blessed John Henry Newman captures this well:

“God has created me to do Him some definite service.
He has committed some work to me
which He has not committed to another.
I have my mission.
I may never know it in this life, but I shall be told it in the next.
I am a link in a chain, a bond of connection between persons.
He has not created me for naught.
I shall do good; I shall do His work.
I shall be an angel of peace, a preacher of truth in my own place,
while not intending it if I do but keep His commandments.
Therefore, I will trust Him,
whatever I am, I can never be thrown away.
If I am in sickness, my sickness may serve Him,
in perplexity, my perplexity may serve Him.
If I am in sorrow, my sorrow may serve Him.
He does nothing in vain. He knows what He is about.
He may take away my friends.
He may throw me among strangers.
He may make me feel desolate, make my spirits sink,
hide my future from me.
Still, He knows what He is about.”