Anointed: The Work and Reward of Being Prophet, Priest and King

Christians are accustomed to thinking of Jesus as the Anointed One. And, to be sure, he is. The name “Christ” is the Englished version of “Christos” and that is simply the Greek for “Messiah” or “Anointed One”. It refers, of course, to Jesus in its ultimate sense, but it also is rooted in the stories of lots of people who get anointed, in various ways and senses, in the Hebrew Scriptures. Those Old Testament images of anointing are our guide for understanding what anointing meant to the authors of the Christian scriptures.

The three main classes of people who were anointed in the Old Testament were priests, kings and prophets. Moses, for instance, is commanded by God to make priestly garments “[a]nd you shall put them upon Aaron your brother, and upon his sons with him, and shall anoint them and ordain them and consecrate them, that they may serve me as priests.” (Exodus 28:41).

Similarly, the prophet Samuel is twice given the command to anoint a king over Israel. First, he anoints Saul and then David (after Saul’s disobedience and subsequent rejection by God). What is striking is that the relationship between anointing with oil and anointing with the Spirit is already obvious and well-established in the mind of Israel a thousand years before the coming of Jesus who is both Christ and Son of David. So 1 Samuel tells us:

Then Samuel took the horn of oil, and anointed him in the midst of his brothers; and the Spirit of the LORD came mightily upon David from that day forward. (1 Samuel 16:13)

So it is not too surprising that the archetypal prophet in the Jewish tradition, Elijah, is likewise commanded by God “Elisha the son of Shaphat of Abel-meholah you shall anoint to be prophet in your place.” (1 Kings 19:16)

Initially, Israel’s history appears to be a story of worldly success: defeat of Egypt and her gods and spectacular liberation from slavery, establishment of kingdom, a promise that one of David’s sons will always be on the throne of Israel, prosperity under Solomon. It appears, at first, as though God is establishing Israel in order to make the nation revel in earthly success. But as the history of Israel rolls on and the nation meets with disaster after disaster in this world, God trains the survivors of the disasters that their hope is not in an earthly kingdom, nor in an earthly temple. Through the prophets (especially Isaiah) Israel is taught to wait for a mysterious coming Servant of the Lord, the son of David, the One upon Whom the Spirit will rest, who will deliver the nation from death. Anointing with oil as a sign of the presence of the Spirit and the mark of a particular office is therefore a natural way in which God would speak of the Messiah who was to come. So, for instance, it is this passage from Isaiah 61 which Jesus declares to be “fulfilled” (cf. Luke 4:18-19) with his coming:

The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me, because the LORD has anointed me to bring good tidings to the afflicted; he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound; to proclaim the year of the LORD's favor. (Isaiah 61:1-2)

In other words, Jesus claims to be not merely an anointed one, but The Anointed One—the one toward whom all the anointed prophets, priests, and kings of the Old Testament point. And the whole of His career through His passion, death, and resurrection bears out that claim. He is, as Peter saw, the Christ, the Son of the Living God and the Son of David; sitting forever on throne in heaven as David was promised

Which brings us back to us, the Christianos (as we were nicknamed by teasing neighbors at Antioch) because of our zealotry and excitement about Christos (Acts 11:26). For (as is often the case with such nicknames) the term signified more than our teasing neighbors realized. It means that we, as much as Jesus, share in the Spirit with which he has been anointed. That’s the whole point of Pentecost and it is the whole point of baptism. We, like He, are the fulfillment of prophecy.

Most of us don’t think of ourselves as The Fulfillment of Prophecy. We are, after all, not hot stuff. And we are perfectly right to be modest since we have much to be modest about as the members of the only species in the universe who welcomed God Incarnate by beating him till the blood spattered the walls and then driving spikes through his hands and feet. Not much to boast about there. But such is God’s generosity that he brought life out of that gravest of all murders and joined us to Christ in baptism so that we become, with him, agents of God’s grace, mercy, and provision to a dying world.

That’s why Paul speaks of suffering Christians as the fulfillment of Psalm 44:22 (Romans 8:36). He sees what the Church sees: that every baptized Christian participates in Christ’s threefold office of Prophet, Priest and King (CCC 1241).

Prophet

Way back in Moses’ day, God promised “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 fulfilling the words of the Prophets. In our baptism, we share in Christ's own prophetic office in the world, being called to speak forth the word of God and sharing in the rewards (and brickbats) that a prophet receives.

The hard part here is that “You are graced to be a prophet” is easier said than done. Speaking God’s word to a particular situation is not something that just happens. The baptismal office of prophet doesn’t mean you go into trances and automatically burp out prophetic utterances. It means self-discipline, a determination to learn, and a willingness to be docile to God’s word. That’s why Isaiah thanks God for giving him

the tongue of those who are taught, that I may know how to sustain with a word him that is weary. Morning by morning he wakens, he wakens my ear to hear as those who are taught. The Lord GOD has opened my ear, and I was not rebellious, I turned not backward. (Is 50:4-5)

In short, speaking God’s word involves both inspiration and perspiration. It means learning God’s word from Scripture and from the teaching of the Church so that you can think with the mind of Christ and apply the wisdom of the Tradition appropriately where you live. In short, a prophet is not primarily somebody who predicts the future (though that does rarely happen), much less a murmuring mystic in a trance state. A prophet is a mouth. False prophets are mouths for the Spirit of the Age, or Caesar, or Mammon, or themselves. A true prophet is a mouth for God. He speaks the word of God to the world.

What are the rewards of a prophet? Among other things, on earth you get the happy sense of not having to feel ashamed when you look in the mirror, because you know that you did your best to tell the truth, both afflicting the comfortable and comforting the afflicted. In heaven, the reward is “Well done, thou good and faithful” from the lips of our Lord himself, and then a seat at the Wedding Feast where the prophets enjoy the fellowship, not only of God, but of all those who heard the word of God and were saved by it. Think “Greatest Family Reunion Ever”.

Priest

But a Christian doesn’t just speak to the world. He or she also speaks to God. And the way in which we speak is the way Jesus speaks. That is, our communication of our whole being to God—heart, soul, mind and strength—includes, but is not limited to, verbal prayer. That’s because Christ is the Word made flesh, not merely the Word made word. His complete prayer to the Father involves, not mere speech, but the total self-offering of everything he has and is on the Cross and in the Sacrifice of the Mass by which we participate in that self-offering. In short, the main prayer Jesus makes to his Father is the offering of his body, blood, soul and divinity, made fully present to us in the sacrament of the Eucharist.

Such an offering is total commitment. And our self-offering as baptized priests must mirror it, according to St. Paul:

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)

What then is a priest? A priest is one who offers sacrifice. And the only sacrifice a real priest can offer is the sacrifice which God himself made and commanded us to participate in: the sacrifice of Christ. This means that insofar as every baptized person is acting as a priest, he or she is doing so by participating in some way in the sacrifice of Christ, because that's the only sacrifice there is to offer God. A priest who has received the Sacrament of Holy Orders 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 lay participants in the baptismal priesthood, when we offer our bodies as living sacrifices, are joined to that sacrifice, which is the source and summit of our worship.

How do we live out our baptismal priesthood? And what’s in it for us? To the first question the answer is “By bringing our whole lives to Mass and bring the Mass to the whole of our lives.” A priest is a go-between: he mediates God to man and man to God. When you pray at Mass, you “offer your body a living sacrifice” by bringing everything you are and have, all your relationships, fears, triumphs, worries, needs, questions, hopes, loves, hates—the whole ball of wax—to be offered up on that altar with the bread and wine. Then, when you receive the Eucharist, you receive the grace of God so that, when Mass is over, you can yourself be the Tabernacle carrying the presence of Jesus into the places God is sending you, whether home, work, play, school or whatever. That’s the basic difference between the lay and the ordained priest. At the altar, the ordained priest presides. In the world, it is the lay priest who presides. That’s an awesome responsibility, because it means we laity are tasked with bringing Christ to the 99.999999999999999% of the human race no priest, bishop, or Pope will ever meet. We lay priests are, quite literally, the only Jesus some people will ever meet.

The benefits of our baptismal priesthood? Well, in addition to become an agent of salvation whose life is full of meaning, work, and love in this world, you will have the joy and honor of knowing, in the next world, that you have pleased God by your imitation of and participation in Christ’s saving work, and you will have the pleasure of meeting the countless people who will come up to you on That Day, tears in their eyes, to say, “Your prayers and sacrifices for me are the reason I’m here.”

King

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 which even the exalted language of the book of Revelation can only begin to describe.

It is a notable curiosity that Jesus, the Anointed One, was only physically anointed with oil once in Scripture. It was done to him by Mary of Bethany, who evidently had a bad reputation with the locals, but whose gesture was, according to Christ himself, going to be what people remembered her for till the end of time (cf. Mark 14:3-9). That gesture tells us what we need to know about the kingly office: namely, that kingship in Christ means ruling by self-denying love. It is an anointing, not for domination, but for burial. Only by that route does Jesus come to exaltation to the throne at the right hand of the Father—and we with him.

Our sharing in Christ’s reign in heaven is why the Rosary points us to the image of Mary assumed into heaven and crowned queen. As is always the case, thing about Mary is that the thing is not about Mary. She is a sign to the Church of what every believer is to expect, giving us a living example of the destiny that awaits all the faithful in Christ Jesus. In receiving her heavenly crown, Mary shows forth 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 account of the trial of Jesus, it is Jesus, not Pilate, who is portrayed as seated during his trial (John 19:13). That is no accident since, in antiquity, being seated is the posture of the King and the Judge, not of the accused. If this way of reading the text is correct, Pilate surely meant it in mockery, but John sees in it the same ironic sign of glory and kingship 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. That in a nutshell, is the description of both the work and reward of our baptismal kingship: on earth you are lifted up on the cross, so that on That Day, you will be lifted up to eternal life and reign with Him forever.

Sidebar: C.S. Lewis on the Duties of the King

“My children,” said Aslan, fixing his eyes on both of them, “you are to be the first king and queen of Narnia.”

The cabby opened his mouth in astonishment, and his wife turned very red.

“You shall rule and name all these creatures, and do justice among them, and protect them from their enemies when enemies arise. And enemies will arise, for there is an evil witch in this world.”

The cabby swallowed hard two or three times and cleared his throat.

“Begging your pardon, sir,” he said, “and thanking you very much I’m sure (which my missus does the same) but I ain’t no sort of a chap for a job like that. I never ‘ad much eddycation, you see.”

“Well,” said Aslan, “Can you use a spade and a plough and raise food out of the earth?”

“Yes, sir, I could do a bit of that sort of work: being brought up to it, like.”

“Can you rule these creatures kindly and fairly, remembering that they are not slaves like the dumb beasts of the world you were born in, but talking beasts and free subjects?”

“I see that, sir,” replied the cabby. “I’d try to do the square thing by them all.”

“And would you bring up your children and grandchildren to do the same?”

“It’d be up to me to try, sir. I’d do my best: wouldn’t we, Nellie?”

“And you wouldn’t have favourites either among your own children or among the other creatures or let any hold another under or use it hardly?”

“I never could abide such goings on, sir, and that’s the truth. I’d give ‘em what for if I caught ‘em at it,” said the cabby. (All through this conversation his voice was growing slower and richer. more like the country voice he must have had as a boy and less like the sharp, quick voice of a cockney.)

“And if enemies came against the land (for enemies will arise) and there was war, would you be the first in the charge and the last in the retreat?”

“Well, sir,” said the cabby very slowly, “a chap don’t exactly know till he’s been tried. I dare say I might turn out ever such a soft ‘un. Never did no fighting except with my fists. I’d try – that is, I ‘ope I’d try – to do my bit.”

“Then,” said Aslan, “you will have done all that a king should do.”

Sidebar: Most Reverend José H. Gomez, S.T.D., Archbishop of San Antonio on the “priestly soul” of the laity:

Every one in the Church shares in Christ’s priesthood, his offering of himself in love for the life of the world. Each of us who has been baptized has a “priestly soul.” As lay people, you are called to offer your daily work and prayer as a spiritual sacrifice of praise to God. You are called to live and work for God in a spirit of love, with a desire to serve him in all things and to do everything you can to help the souls around you.

In the words of the Second Vatican Council, you are to be “witnesses to Christ in all circumstances and at the very heart of the community of mankind.” This is what makes the lay vocation so crucial to the mission of the Church. By definition, the laity are on the frontlines of the culture, living in the very heart of the world.

The people you meet in your community or in your daily work may not hear the Gospel if they do not hear it from you. They may not see an example of Christian living unless they see it from you.

Sidebar: Lumen Gentium on the prophetic office of the baptized:

The holy people of God shares also in Christ's prophetic office; it spreads abroad a living witness to Him, especially by means of a life of faith and charity and by offering to God a sacrifice of praise, the tribute of lips which give praise to His name. The entire body of the faithful, anointed as they are by the Holy One, cannot err in matters of belief. They manifest this special property by means of the whole peoples' supernatural discernment in matters of faith when "from the Bishops down to the last of the lay faithful" they show universal agreement in matters of faith and morals. That discernment in matters of faith is aroused and sustained by the Spirit of truth. It is exercised under the guidance of the sacred teaching authority, in faithful and respectful obedience to which the people of God accepts that which is not just the word of men but truly the word of God. Through it, the people of God adheres unwaveringly to the faith given once and for all to the saints, penetrates it more deeply with right thinking, and applies it more fully in its life.

It is not only through the sacraments and the ministries of the Church that the Holy Spirit sanctifies and leads the people of God and enriches it with virtues, but, "allotting his gifts to everyone according as He wills, He distributes special graces among the faithful of every rank. By these gifts He makes them fit and ready to undertake the various tasks and offices which contribute toward the renewal and building up of the Church, according to the words of the Apostle: "The manifestation of the Spirit is given to everyone for profit". These charisms, whether they be the more outstanding or the more simple and widely diffused, are to be received with thanksgiving and consolation for they are perfectly suited to and useful for the needs of the Church. Extraordinary gifts are not to be sought after, nor are the fruits of apostolic labor to be presumptuously expected from their use; but judgment as to their genuinity and proper use belongs to those who are appointed leaders in the Church, to whose special competence it belongs, not indeed to extinguish the Spirit, but to test all things and hold fast to that which is good.

Copyright 2010 - Mark P. Shea