Saturday, September 5, 2009

Priest, Prophet and King: Baptism, Part 4, Mark Shea

Most of us don’t wake up in the morning thinking of ourselves as The Fulfillment of Prophecy. Still and all, we are. Oh, not because we are any great shakes ourselves, of course. Left to our own devices apart from grace we’d only be the fulfillment of somebody’s worst nightmare. But, when we are joined to Christ in baptism, we become part of the fulfillment of prophecy because he is.

This is exactly the view Paul takes when he tells the Romans that suffering Christians are the fulfillment of Psalm 44:22 (Romans 8:36). And it is also the position the Church takes when it proclaims that every baptized Christian participates in Christ’s threefold office of prophet, priest and king.

God promises us through his word that “I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their brethren; and I will put my words in his mouth, and he shall speak to them all that I command him” (Deuteronomy 18:18). Christ, of course, fulfills this promise perfectly, not only by his own prophetic words, but also by being the fulfillment of all the words the prophets have spoken. In our baptism, we share in Christ’s own prophetic office in the world, speaking forth the word of God and sharing in the rewards (and brickbats) that a prophet receives.

A prophet is not primarily somebody who predicts the future (though that does rarely happen). A prophet is a mouth. False prophets are mouths for the Spirit of the Age or Madison Avenue or sometimes simply themselves. A true prophet is a mouth for God. He speaks the word of God to the world.

But a Christian doesn’t just speak to the world. He also speaks to God. And the way in which we speak is the way Jesus speaks. That is, it includes, but is not limited to, verbal prayer. That’s because Christ is the Word made flesh, not merely the Word made word. The main prayer Jesus makes to his Father is the offering of his flesh and blood. That’s total commitment. And it is precisely the offering we are called to make: “I appeal to you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship” (Romans 12:1).

In short, we are priests in Christ — as well as prophets. A priest is not somebody who writes the checks to the utility company for the parish, wears an uncomfortable collar, or stands in the vestibule shaking hands after a religious service. A priest is one who offers sacrifice. That’s it. That’s all. And the only sacrifice a true priest can offer is the sacrifice that God has ordained: the sacrifice of Christ. Therefore, every baptized person is participating in some way in the sacrifice of Christ, since that’s the only sacrifice there is.

An ordained priest (the kind with the collar) offers that sacrifice in a unique way in the Eucharist, which is a participation in the fullness of that sacrifice since it is Jesus Christ himself. But all of us, when we offer our bodies as living sacrifices, are joined to that sacrifice, which is the source and summit of our worship.

Christ’s sacrifice is the moment at which he enters into his kingship. It is a kingship crowned only by thorns in this world, though in the next it comes adorned in glory that even the exalted language of the book of Revelation can only begin to describe. For some mysterious reason, some people are scandalized by the notion that Mary was assumed into heaven and crowned queen.

Yet all that this doctrine does is give us a living example of the destiny that awaits every believer in Jesus. In receiving her heavenly crown, Mary simply fulfilled completely the gift that Jesus has given every single one of us in baptism. For all the baptized are, like Our Lady, graced with a royal crown. As Paul says: “Already you are filled! Already you have become rich! Without us you have become kings! And would that you did reign, so that we might share the rule with you!” (1 Corinthians 4:8).

Kings and queens exist to rule. Rulership in the Kingdom of God is exercised not by domination, but by service. Many scholars argue that, in John’s Gospel, Jesus, not Pilate, is portrayed as seated during his trial (John 19:13). That is the posture of the king, not of the accused. If this translation is correct, Pilate surely meant it in mockery, but John sees in it the same sign as the crown of thorns. By this sign, we are told who is really in command during the seeming kangaroo court that condemns Jesus to death. In the same way, we, by our lives of service to God in Christ, are ultimately part of the army of kings and queens who shall conquer sin, hell and death itself.

Parts one through three of this series on the Sacrament of Baptism by Mark Shea, one of the most prolific, and able, writers in Catholic-dom, may be found on Stella, here:

Part III Our Needs vs. God's Needs

Part II Baptismal Complexes

Part I The Fountain of Youth

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