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The Prophetic Path - Love and Liberation
The Prophetic Path - Love and Liberation

Prophets Are Radicals and Traditionalists

Tuesday, August 15, 2023

Father Richard considers the “both/and” nature of the prophetic charism and call:  

The prophets were both radicals and traditionalists. They were radical believers in God and radical lovers of God’s people. We can even say they were radical traditionalists. Their penetrating insight saw into the heart of their own tradition, the tradition that went back to YHWH’s covenant with Israel, the tradition that went further back than their recent religious institutions. They reminded their people of God’s faithfulness to that covenant, and they called them to be faithful to the God who gave it to them. [1]  

The prophetic gift or “charism” is rare, I believe, because it demands two seemingly opposite things—radical traditionalism and shocking iconoclasm at the same time. Normally, we would think these two things would cancel each other out. Most people cannot imagine that both can coexist, tame, and educate one another.  

The “radical traditionalism” we see in the prophets is very different from what we see today in many social activists, who are often embarrassed to use words like God, faith, surrender, or trust. To put together opposites such as radical and traditional demands a level of human maturity, groundedness, spiritual intelligence, a readiness not to be liked, and a willingness to be persecuted. [2] 

The Hebrew prophets did not care if others looked on them as conservative or liberal. They only cared about being faithful to God. To some, they looked like “conservatives” preaching old-time religion. To others, they looked like “liberals” questioning the status quo. The same is true of prophets in our day. Many people turned against Martin Luther King Jr. (1929–1968) when he spoke out against racism, poverty, and war; yet he was only being faithful to the call God had given him to preach the gospel of freedom. Antiwar prophets are labeled as radicals even when they call us back to the ancient tradition of Christian pacifism. Mother Teresa of Calcutta (1910–1997) was admired by many conservatives, and yet her radical care for the poor is rooted in the same love of Christ as the gospel poverty of Dorothy Day (1897–1980), who was hated by conservatives.  

The prophets, past and present, first call us into that experience of God’s love which radically alters our vision of ourselves and our outlook on life. Too often we are concerned about petty things that in the end do not really matter. What the prophets are saying is this: Let God do something good for us. Let God lead. Enter into the experience of God’s presence and love. We shouldn’t be surprised if we find ourselves falling in love with our tradition and wanting to radically change the way things are. Entering into the vision and love of God alters our perception of reality. [3]  


[1] Adapted from Richard Rohr and Joseph Martos, The Great Themes of Scripture: Old Testament (Cincinnati, OH: St. Anthony Messenger Press, 1987), 79. 

[2] Adapted from Richard Rohr, Way of the Prophet (Albuquerque, NM: Center for Action and Contemplation, 1994), audio recording. No longer available for purchase. 

[3] Rohr, Great Themes: Old Testament, 80–81. 

Image credit: A path from one week to the next—Taylor Wilson, Field of the Saints (detail), print. Taylor Wilson, Isha (detail), watercolor and cyanotype. Taylor Wilson, Ruah (detail), print. Used with permission. Click here to enlarge image

Artist Statement (Taylor Wilson): This collection is an exploration of iconic visuals.… Playing and replaying with what the ancients already knew and then taking the responsibility of sacred knowledge forward through modern expression with the Spirit. 

Story from Our Community:  

I was deeply moved by Brian McClaren’s reflections about “Finding the Flow.” It included the line: “I feel echoes of Isaiah, speaking of God doing a new thing, something fresh springing forth, so that there will be good news for the poor, recovery of sight for the blind, freedom for the incarcerated and oppressed.” I love the idea of Isaiah trying to open hearts and usher in a new time, free from oppression. I feel that this correlates to the tremendous paradigm shift we are collectively experiencing today. I feel so encouraged by the Daily Meditations on this theme. I pray that we remain loyal and active in helping to herald the good news. —Julia T. 

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