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6/5/12 Homily: The Anointed Ones

Updated: Jul 30

Sunday's readings can be found: [HERE]


This time of year across the United States, new priests are being ordained for Jesus Christ. When a man is ordained a priest, sacred oil is poured over his hands during the ceremony to anoint him for the ministry that awaits.


Anointing with oil isn’t a new thing. It’s an ancient practice that has been used by many cultures throughout history including the ancient Israelites. The ordination of priests calls for it in the Book of Exodus.[1] Aaron and his sons were anointed priests, as an example. Kings were also anointed, as well. Saul was anointed the first king of Israel by the prophet Samuel. Later, God commanded Samuel to anoint David as king of Israel to follow Saul. Prophets could also be anointed, though there aren’t many biblical examples. God commanded Elijah to anoint Elisha as the prophet to succeed him. But when he did so, it wasn’t through the pouring of sacred oil. It happened when Elijah cast his mantle over Elisha.


In short priests, prophets, and kings were anointed to serve the Lord and his designs, and to carry out his will. Now, over time and due to many factors, there was an erosion of many rich cultural and religious traditions of Israel. True anointings as commanded by God became more and more infrequent. But there also developed a great longing for “the anointed one,” who was promised by God, who was believed to be someone who would restore a golden age of Israel. You know the word for "anointed one," in Hebrew. It's Messiah. And you're perhaps even more familiar with the Greek translation: Christ.


And as it was in the most ancient of days when priests, prophets, and kings were anointed, Jesus was anointed as the High Priest, King of Kings, and Prophet—or Master—or teacher; different words, but the same reality.


But when Jesus was anointed priest, prophet, and king, it didn't happen through sacred oil, at least not scripturally. He was anointed by God himself at the Jordan River through the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. You may remember the scene.


John the Baptist had been preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. Jesus entered the waters in solidarity with the human race. When he arose from the waters, the heavens opened and the Holy Spirit descended upon Jesus in the form of a dove, and the voice of the Father was heard: “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.”[2]


That was his anointing. And as priests, prophets, and kings were anointed for service, the same was true for Jesus. That began his public service, which would last for three years.


At the synagogue at Nazareth, he spoke about what he was anointed to do. He quoted a prophecy from Isaiah: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to captives and recovery of sight to the blind, freedom to those who are oppressed, and to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord.”


Why all this discussion about anointing? Today we celebrate the Solemnity of Pentecost, at which the Holy Spirit anointed Christ’s disciples. As the Holy Spirit descended upon Jesus at the Jordan, the Holy Spirit descended upon Mary and the disciples at Pentecost as tongues of fire. As the Spirit of the Lord had been upon Jesus in his earthly ministry, the Spirit of the Lord came upon the disciples, because he now anointed them to preach good news to the poor, and so on.


When true anointings had all but disappeared after centuries had passed, the anointed one—the Christ—entered history and became the first-born of a race of priests, prophets, and kings anointed by the Spirit.


Saint Peter would even address the flock in those terms: "You are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people, that you may proclaim the wonderful deeds of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light."[3]


Incidentally, this was something desired even by Moses well over a thousand years before Christ’s birth, saying: “Would that all the Lord’s people were prophets, that the Lord would put his spirit upon all of them!”[4]


Now, all of us who have been confirmed have been anointed in this exact same way. When we received the sacrament of Confirmation—when sacred chrism marked our foreheads in the shape of a cross—the Holy Spirit descended upon us and made us into other anointed ones, to be other Christs in the world.


And so, like Jesus—and like all the disciples at Pentecost—we can and should live up to the prophecy of Isaiah: The Spirit of the Lord is upon you, because he has anointed you to preach good news to the poor. He has sent you to proclaim liberty to captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to release those who are oppressed, and to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord.


Let’s go out into the world and do precisely that.


Pentecost by Jean Restout, II (1692-1768). Oil on canvas. 1732. [1] Cf. Ex. 29:7 [2] Cf. Mk. 1:10-11 [3] Cf. 1 Pt. 2:9 [4] Cf. Nm. 11:29b