This last week I saw the movie “Arrival”. I found the movie to be very thought-provoking. I do not want to ruin the movie for anyone so I will not delve too deeply into the story but the heart of the movie is about language, thought and even time. The movie asks a simple question; “If aliens arrived on earth how would we communicate?” Especially if the aliens were so different physiologically from us and did not communicate by sound as we do. The movie centers on a translator and her work to overcome this barrier. At one point in the movie there is a discussion about how learning another language might actually effect and even change a person’s way of thinking. Learning a new language helps us to think differently and to see the world differently.
In biblical thought, a prophet is not a fortune-teller or someone who can somehow magically tell what is going to happen in the future. Rather, a biblical prophet is someone who lives a deep relationship with God and who is able to read the signs of the times from that perspective. To make use of the discussion in the movie – a prophet is someone who has caught a bit of the language of God and is able therefore to think differently and to see the world differently. A prophet is someone who begins to see as God sees and to dream as God dreams.
In today’s gospel (Mt. 3:1-12) we are given the figure of John the Baptist. The man whom Christ himself called the greatest of prophets. John is this uniquely charismatic figure drawing huge crowds from all over Jerusalem, Judea and the whole region around the Jordan. He proclaims the coming Kingdom of God and he calls his listeners to repentance. Almost as if to provide a contrast, the gospel brings the Pharisees and Sadducees into the picture. They approach the baptism of John not as a true spirit of repentance but because it looks good before the crowd who they knew held John in high regard. John’s eyes were on the promise of eternity and the mercy of God because he had caught the language of God while the eyes of these religious authorities were only on what looked good in the moment and what would seem pleasing to others. John’s eyes were on the ever new possibility of the Kingdom of God precisely because he had caught the language of God.
We could say that John already saw and set his life by the vision offered by the prophet Isaiah in the first reading (Is. 11:1-10). John saw that day when the one would come on whom the spirit of the Lord would rest and who would judge rightly and who would strike the ruthless and bring forth justice and through whom the wolf and the lamb would be guest of one another. In the Jordan River, John would baptize the one who is himself the incarnate Word of the Father.
In Christ, the language of God is fully revealed and spoken and it overcomes all the sad divisions of our world. Isaiah’s poetic use of imagery is all about the divisions and fears and animosities of life being overcome – “the cow and the bear shall be neighbors … the baby shall play by the cobras den …” – all this shall occur through Christ.
And it continues through his body, the Church. In Christ the role of the prophet is not ended, it is multiplied infinitely! Through our baptisms we are all called to be prophets! In the Eucharistic Prayer entitled, “Jesus, the Way to the Father” we find these words, “Grant that all the faithful of the Church, looking into the signs of the times by the light of faith, may constantly devote themselves to the service of the Gospel.”
To be a prophet is not to somehow magically see into the future but to live in deep relationship with God and to read the signs of the times from that perspective. The prophet learns the language of God fully revealed in Christ. The prophet allows that language to change his or her own pattern of thought and the prophet lives by the ever new possibility of God’s Kingdom which says that all the sad divisions of our world and our individual lives can be healed and can be overcome.
To learn a language changes the way we think. The prophets caught the language of God, John learned it and even baptized the Word incarnate and, now, the Word is given and spoken to us.
We can live differently. We can live through the very Word given to us as God intends.