me? you? prophets? yes!

Q: What’s a prophet?
A: Someone who tells the future.

Well, not exactly, though people often answer the question this way.

IsaiahI first said it in my 4th grade Sunday School class during a lesson on Isaiah. I had reasoned that prophets, possessing otherworldly knowledge of things to come (usually bad!), told people about the consequences of disobeying God’s commandments. The people hadn’t and, after being warned, didn’t, thus the foretold future happened. (I later reckoned that this was the meaning of “self-fulfilling prophecy.”)

MLKIn the 1960s of my late elementary and high school years, a frequent conversation starter: Are there prophets today? Usual answer: Martin Luther King, Jr. This expanded my awareness of who prophets could be. People who looked like me. In my Sunday School lessons all biblical figures were depicted as white (or, in the language of our present day, less political progressive-speak, tan; but still, in either case, not black). The frequent reference to MLK also reformed my view of what prophets could do. More than the limited job description of declaring terrible things to come, but, as I came to understand, as the prophets of old, also crying “love and justice” and calling all to bring it to life. “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven” took on new meaning.

This morning, I reflected on the story of Jesus at the synagogue in Nazareth. Reading from Isaiah, he said, “Today this scripture is fulfilled.” Centuries before, to a desperate people in exile what Isaiah announced would happen in returning to their homeland, Jesus declares had happened in his homecoming as a bearer of the gospel, the good news.

The people, however, under Rome’s harsh rule, remained desperate. “So, Jesus,” I imagine them saying, “what do you mean? And don’t we know you? Who are you to tell us these things, these non-things, which, clearly, by all we see, aren’t true?”

Jesus cited the proverbial wisdom that prophets, as peace-disturbers, especially of those who “knew you when”, weren’t welcome. He infuriated them further, recalling how God had helped others, foreigners, even enemies.

Nevertheless, Jesus did fulfill scripture, proclaiming to the people the good news of liberation. If not from Roman oppression, then from their prejudices, close-mindedness, cold-heartedness to those not their own. But they refused to receive it.

Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose. Prophets speak and our inherent human hardness of hearing and heart is apparent whenever we cannot conceive or perceive a truth other than that already known and anywhere we will not lay down our arms against (and open our arms to) one another.

Our times call any, all of us to become prophets, offering our world of enmity and greed an alternate lens through which to view history and the present time so to behold the ideal of love and justice made real.

Daily, one way I try to do this, borrowing another biblical phrase, is to speak truth in love. I confess at times it’s hard to hold the two together. Either I speak truthfully with clarity, but without charity, which can be abuse masquerading as honesty or I speak gently, nicely so not to offend, which can be sentimentality pretending to be love.

Over time, I’ve discerned that speaking truth in love calls me to be and do more of who I already am. The Greek verb for “speaking truth” (alētheuō) means more than talking, but also knowing and doing what I believe, being true (“at home” with) my self. The operative Greek word for love is agape, which is not a feeling, but a power rooted not in my emotions, but in my will, my capacity to choose.

In this one way, among many, I believe we are prophets whenever speaking truth in love we act out the sacred scripture’s call of justice, and therefore, in our living, in our being proclaim, “Today this is fulfilled.”

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2 thoughts on “me? you? prophets? yes!

  1. One of your blogs and I believe a sermon too was entitled, “relationships are hard!”. I feel the same about speaking truth in love. It can be very difficult to walk the tightrope between not offending and being truthful. I try to always speak truth in love especially with family and friends! I work hard at it too and I think it shows! Harder though, is to do the same in my work life. I have to speak truth in security and there are times that adding love isn’t possible. Those times don’t feel good… But I try as much as possible to stay true to both my work AND my personality and my goal of not offending! I speak a lot, and though I’m no where close to being a prophet, I at least try to get the love part right! I got are ally great feeling reading this!! Thanks!!!

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  2. Thank you, too, Loretta. I do have a good sense of how much effort you put into following the Ephesian maxim. I’ll add, too, that sometimes speaking the truth (being honest) in love (with kindness and care) can and does offend the receiver of the message. Not because the speaker intended it, but rather, perhaps, because the matter spoken/addressed, once heard, revealed to/stirred up in the receiver something difficult or painful leading that person to recoil in offense.

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