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Love and Justice
Love and Justice

The Example of the Prophets

Sunday, October 16, 2022

For Father Richard Rohr, the work of justice is rooted in the prophetic tradition of the Hebrew Scriptures. He says:

Christianity has given little energy to prophecy, which Paul identifies as the second most important charism for building the church (1 Corinthians 12:28; Ephesians 4:11). Too often, when Christians talk about prophecy, we think prophets make predictions about the future. In fact, prophets say exactly the opposite! They insist the future is highly contingent on the now. They always announce to the people of Israel that they have to make a decision now. You can go this way and the outcome of events will undo you or you can return to God, to love, and to the covenant. That’s not predicting the future as much as it’s naming the now, the way reality works. The prophet opens up human freedom by daring to tell the people of Israel that they can change history by changing themselves. That’s extraordinary, and it’s just as true for us today.

The prophets ultimately reveal a God who is “the God of the Sufferers” in the words of Jewish philosopher Martin Buber (1878–1965). [1] I’d like to put it this way: it is not that we go out preaching hard and difficult messages, and then people mistreat and marginalize us for being such prophets (although that might happen). Rather, when we go to the stories of the prophets and of Jesus himself, we discover the biblical pattern is just the opposite! When we find ourselves wounded and marginalized, and we allow that suffering to teach us, we can become prophets. When we repeatedly experience the faithfulness, the mercy, and the forgiveness of God, then our prophetic voice emerges. That’s the training school. That’s where we learn how to speak the truth.

The prophets were always these wonderful people who went to wounded places. They went to where the suffering was, to the people who were excluded from the system. They saw through the idolatries at the center of the system because those who are excluded from the system always reveal the operating beliefs of that system. Speaking the truth for the sake of healing and wholeness is then prophetic because the “powers that be” that benefit from the system cannot tolerate certain revelations. They cannot tolerate the truths that the marginalized—the broken, the wounded, and the homeless—always reveal.

Are we willing to take the risk and become prophets ourselves? It’s not that we get to preach or speak hard words and then feel justified and righteous when we are excluded. It’s that we experience some level of exclusion or heartbreak, and then we have the inner authority to preach what may sound like hard words. Sadly, they will sound like very harsh and even unfair words to people who have never been on the edge, or the bottom, or who have never suffered. The prophets always bring the sufferers to the center.


[1] Martin Buber, The Prophetic Faith, trans. Carlyle Witton-Davies(New York: Macmillan, 1949), chapter 8.

Adapted from Joan Chittister and Richard Rohr, Prophets Then, Prophets Now (Albuquerque, NM: Center for Action and Contemplation, 2006). Available as MP3 download.

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Image credit: Nathan Garcia, Untitled (detail), 2019, photograph, Albuquerque. Jenna Keiper & Leslye Colvin, 2022, triptych art, United States. Click here to enlarge image.

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