When God calls people to be prophets, they seldom become the most popular residents in the neighborhood. Prophets have been, are and likely will continue to be misunderstood. At times they are threatened, slandered and even killed for their trouble. So, join me on a journey to look at some of God’s prophets, ancient and modern.
God calls the sixth century B.C. prophet, Ezekiel, and sends him out: “The Lord said to me, ‘Mortal, I am sending you to the people of Israel, to a nation of rebels who have rebelled against me; they and their ancestors have transgressed against me to this very day. The descendants are impudent and stubborn. I am sending you to them, and you shall say to them, ‘Thus says the Lord God.’ Whether they hear or refuse to hear ... they shall know that there has been a prophet among them.’” (Ezekiel 2:1-5)
The eighth century B.C. prophet, Amos, was sent by God to Israel to speak against the increased disparity between the very wealthy and the very poor. His major themes were social justice, God’s omnipotence and divine judgment. He criticized the king and was “advised” by the head priest, Amaziah, to leave town just as quickly as he had arrived.
John the Baptist, the first New Testament prophet, preached the baptism for the forgiveness of sins, baptized those who came to him and prepared the way for Jesus and his message of love and forgiveness. For his efforts, John was beheaded by King Herod.
And then Jesus shows up who, in addition to being proclaimed Son of God and Messiah was, I believe, a prophet as well. When Jesus first started preaching and healing, He went to his hometown to share God’s Good News. He was met with astonishment, skepticism and concerns.
“On the Sabbath he began to teach in the synagogue, and many who heard him were astounded. They said, ‘Where did this man get all this? What is this wisdom that has been given to him? What deeds of power are being done by his hands! Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon, and are not his sisters here with us?’ And they took offense at him.” (Mark 6:1-13)
Since, because of their unbelief, Jesus could do no deeds of power there, He sent the disciples out in pairs to proclaim and heal: “If they refuse to hear you ... shake the dust off your feet as a testimony against them.” (Mark 6:11)
I suspect the people to whom they went also knew that “there had been prophets among them.
“The disciples proclaimed that all should repent, they cast out demons, anointed with oil many who were sick and cured them.” (Mark 6:12-13)
After looking at some of the prophets of the past, as well as Jesus, what is the place of prophesy in the church today? I firmly believe God sends Prophets to be the conscience of our earthly Kingdoms — to be the conscience of our leaders and of we, the people. As humans, we all want our own way, and those with power usually get it. Apparently, God does not like this: “They shall know there has been a prophet among them.” Paul said, “God’s power is made perfect in my weakness.” And, of course, consider Jesus in his hometown.
When people reject the prophet, the prophet goes elsewhere, taking the power of God and the healing and Good News of God.
Being a prophet can require much suffering and rejection. Prophets tend to be misunderstood by people of their own time and place because they are always calling people to see beyond that time and place. As an example, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. is almost universally loved and quoted today by people of all walks of life and political persuasions. However, when he was alive and working for civil rights and against the war in Southeast Asia, he was continually investigated by the FBI, and was called a communist and many other names by many, many people.
Prophets expand our vision by calling us out of complacency with injustice. They reorient us to the liberating will of God.
Who are some of the prophets in the world today? I give you three and invite you to add your own: Malala Yousafzai, a Pakistani activist who, as a teenager worked for female education, was wounded by the Taliban and became the youngest winner of the Nobel Peace Prize; The Most Rev. Michael Curry, presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church who preaches about love, everywhere he goes, from the royal wedding in England to the Poor People’s March in Washington; and Bryan Stevenson, a lawyer who founded the Equal Justice Initiative in Montgomery to work with death row inmates who do not have the resources to appeal their convictions, many of which are unjust and in error.
I leave you with three questions: Who do you think of as prophets today? How might God be calling you to proclaim God’s Good News? How might God be calling you to be a prophet?
The Rev. Ben Alford is part-time rector of Christ Episcopal Church in Albertville.