Harwich Soundings – September 15, 2017
Since we’ve been considering Jonah, a reluctant prophet in recent sermons, the following thoughts on ‘the prophet’ seem pertinent. Offered by Richard Rohr in his daily meditations, I lift them up because this vital Biblical role is relevant in our current times, and because we all get annoyed by the prophets’ work/word from time to time. This is partly due to the ways prophets tell the truth, truth that implicates us. I’m no prophet, but at times I seek to preach the gospel prophetically. Because it’s uncomfortably clear that Jesus’ gospel does speak to/confront the world’s ways and our lives prophetically. May the Holy Spirit help us discern the times and receive the word of God spoken through the prophets.
Signs of a Prophet
Thursday, September 14, 2017
Over the next few days I’d like to share thoughts from my friend, author and peace activist John Dear, who lives here in New Mexico. I believe he has been a prophet of nonviolence for many, many people. John offers twelve signs to help us identify a true prophet.
First, a prophet is someone who listens attentively to the word of God, a contemplative, a mystic who hears God and takes God at God’s word, and then goes into the world to tell the world God’s message. So a prophet speaks God’s message fearlessly, publicly, without compromise, despite the times, whether fair or foul.
Second, morning, noon, and night, the prophet is centered on God. The prophet does not do his or her own will or speak his or her own message. The prophet does God’s will and speaks God’s message. . . . In the process, the prophet tells us who God is and what God wants, and thus who we are and how we can become fully human.
Third, a prophet interprets the signs of the times. The prophet is concerned with the world, here and now, in the daily events of the whole human race, not just our little backyard or some ineffable hereafter. The prophet sees the big picture—war, starvation, poverty, corporate greed, nationalism, systemic violence, nuclear weapons, and environmental destruction. The prophet interprets these current realities through God’s eyes, not through the eyes of analysts or pundits or Pentagon press spokespeople. The prophet tells us God’s take on what’s happening.
Fourth, a prophet takes sides [the “bias toward the bottom” or the “preferential option for the poor”]. A prophet stands in solidarity with the poor, the powerless, and the marginalized. . . . A prophet becomes a voice for the voiceless. Indeed, a prophet is the voice of a voiceless God.
Fifth, all the prophets of the Hebrew Bible are concerned with one main question: justice and peace. They call people to act justly and create a new world of social and economic justice, which will be the basis for a new world of peace. Justice and peace, they learned, are at the heart of God; God wants justice and peace here on earth now. And the prophet won’t shy away from telling us that if we want a spiritual life, we must work for justice and peace.
Sixth, prophets simultaneously announce and denounce. They announce God’s reign of justice and peace and publicly denounce the world’s regimes of injustice and war. Like Martin Luther King, Jr., they hold high the alternatives of nonviolence and disarmament and lay low the obsolete ways of violence and weapons.
Seventh, a prophet confronts the status quo. With the prophet, there is no sitting back. The powerful are challenged, empires resisted, systemic justices exposed. Prophets vigorously rock the leaky ship of the state and shake our somnolent complacency. . . .
Eighth, for the prophet, the secure life is usually denied. More often than not the prophet is in trouble. Prophets call for love of our nation’s enemies. They topple the nation’s idols, upset the rich and powerful, and break the laws that would legalize mass murder. The warlike culture takes offense and dismisses the prophet, not merely as an agitator but as obsessed and unbalanced. Consequently, the prophet ends up outcast, rejected, harassed, and marginalized—and, eventually, punished, threatened, targeted, bugged, followed, jailed, and sometimes killed.
Ninth, prophets bring the incandescent word to the very heart of grudging religious institutions. There the prophet confronts the blindness and complacency of the religious leader—the bishops and priests who keep silent amid national crimes; the ministers who trace a cross over industries of death and rake blood money into churchly coffers. A bitter irony and an ancient story—and all but inevitable. The institution that goes by the name of God often turns away the prophet of God.
Tenth, true prophets take no delight in calling down heavenly bolts. Rather, they bear an aura of compassion and gentleness. They are good and decent, kind and generous. They’ve learned to cultivate joy and now exude joy. . . .
Eleventh, prophets are visionaries. In a culture of blindness, they offer insight. In a time of darkness, they light our path. When no one else can see, the prophet can. And what they see is a world imbued with God’s purposes: a world of justice and peace and security for all, a world where all of creation is safe and at rest. The prophet holds aloft the vision—it’s ours for the asking. The prophet makes it seem possible, saying “Let’s make it come true and we shall be blessed.”
Finally, the prophet offers hope. Now and then, they might sound despairing, but only because they have a heightened awareness of the world’s darkest realities. These things overwhelm us; we would rather not hear. But hearing is our only hope. For behind the prophet’s unvarnished vision lies a hope we seldom understand—the knowledge that God is with us, that the kingdom of God is at hand. To realize that hope, we must trust ourselves to plumb the depths and trust God to see us through.
Reference: John Dear, The Beatitudes of Peace: Meditations on the Beatitudes, Peacemaking and the Spiritual Life (Twenty-Third Publications: 2016), 117-119.