Friday, November 19, 2010

The "Sweet and Sour" Flavor of Prophetic Ministry

Today's first reading from Mass comes again from the Book of Revelation and is as "cryptic" and mysterious as yesterday's reading about the scroll with the seven seals. The author, who identifies himself as John, is instructed (presumably by the Lord) to receive an open scroll from the hand of an angel and to swallow it. The scroll tastes sweet in the mouth but than turns sour in the stomach. What might this mean? This scroll sounds more like sauce for an egg roll than God's sacred writ!

In delving into the mystery of the "sweet and sour" scroll, it's very helpful to know that the author of the Book of Revelation was very much influenced by the apocalyptic genre of the Old Testament Scriptures. He borrowed images and metaphors from prophetic texts such as Ezekiel and Daniel. Scripture scholars believe that the above mentioned vision was likely influenced by a very similar event in the Book of the Prophet Ezekiel (2:8-3:3). In that text, Ezekiel is likewise instructed to eat a scroll. The difference between the two "scroll eating" episodes is that in Ezekiel the scroll only tastes sweet and doesn't become sour. The importance of knowing the Old Testament precedent to John's vision is that it allows us to juxtapose both visions in order to discern what is common to both, what is different, and how to interpret what John's vision means based on both similarity and dissimilarity to Ezekiel's vision.

The obvious similarity is the swallowing of the scroll and it's sweetness. According to the Harper Collins Study Bible, eating a scroll "signifies accepting a prophetic commission." It means to have one's lips, tongue, imagination, heart, spirit, and soul animated and so thoroughly penetrated by God's word that one's life essentially becomes an "ambassadorship" of that word. In general, "sweetness" of the word corresponds to what every word of God points to: the covenantal promises of God and the call of God to covenantal fidelity. The Catholic Study Bible also states that the sweetness of the scroll in the text from Revelation is a promise of God's ultimate victory over sin, the forces of evil, and death itself. The sourness of the word in John is, of course, the glaring difference with Ezekiel's vision. The aforementioned Catholic Study Bible indicates that the sourness corresponds to the intense persecution of the Church by Roman authorities during the time of John.

Today's reading from Revelation offers us insight into the "sweet and sour" flavor of prophetic ministry (something every Christian is called to by virtue of being baptized "priest, prophet, and king" in the manner that Jesus exercised these roles). The prophetic ministry begins with frequent "tasting" and even "noshing" on the word of God to release it's "sweet" implications for our lives and world (the covenant promises of God's abiding, strengthening, healing, redeeming, and transformative presence). However, the ministry of prophecy also means digesting and putting the word back out into the world (especially through the witness of our lives) in such a way that it can be impactful to others. This, of course, is risky business! If we put the word, and ourselves who have been and are being transformed by the word, "out there" it will bring both acceptance and rejection. However, we needn't be overly concerned how the word, and the witness of our lives, is received. Above all today's vision assures us that God will be there to support us no matter what and that his word will ultimately be victorious in our lives and world! Pat, TOR