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Prophets as Liberators

Prophets: Self Critical Thinking

Prophets as Liberators
Friday, February 20, 2015

We find the beginnings of the prophetic tradition in Deuteronomy 18, where Moses calls himself a prophet and sets out the first daring criteria for the role. Moses has led the people out of slavery and into freedom, which is the archetypal spiritual pattern for every human life. Poor Moses’ job is finding out how to keep the Israelites really free, after they first found their physical freedom. This is a much more difficult job, and I know almost no republics, democracies, or monarchies that achieve it. Ironically, some oppressed and enslaved people do achieve it, as we have seen with so many Black Americans.

Let’s use this as our simple understanding of a prophet. A prophet is one who keeps God free for people and who keeps people free for God. It is a two-sided task. He or she is committed to the covenant love between humanity and the Divine—at all costs—and keeping God totally free for people. That is a very hard thing to do, because at least in the Bible the priestly class invariably makes God less accessible instead of more so: “Neither entering yourselves nor letting others enter in” as Jesus boldly puts it (Matthew 23:13). For our own job-security, the priestly mentality tends to say, “You can only come to God through us, by doing the right rituals and obeying the rules.” Formal ministers are too often good at teaching people “learned helplessness.” That’s why the prophets spend so much time destroying and dismissing these barriers to create “a straight highway to God” (Matthew 3:3) as John the Baptist tries to do, and Jesus does with such determination and partial success. But now you know why they were both killed.

The other half of the prophet’s job is to keep people free for God. People get trapped in chains of guilt and low self-esteem, what they judge to be poor performance and less than perfect attendance. As if the goal of religion is “attendance” at an occasional ritual instead of constant participation in an Eternal Mystery!

Walter Brueggemann has given his whole life to understanding the Hebrew Scriptures, and is my favorite Old Testament Christian scholar, hands down. I think he is a prophet himself. In the end, he says that the only consistent pattern he could find in the way God works with God’s people is that there is no pattern! There is no one image of God in the Bible. There must be at least 50, I would think. God is always breaking God’s own rules to get to this person, to change this situation, to transform this event.  If you are honest about the text, this should be clear. You do realize, I hope, that every time God forgives, God is breaking God’s own rules, and saying relationship with YOU matters more than God being right! I would base my life on that assertion.

Gateway to Silence:
Welcome, uncomfortable truth!

Adapted from Way of the Prophet (no longer available); and
Prophets Then, Prophets Now (CD, MP3 download)

Image credit: The Way of the Prophet by Mike Van, concept by Vivienne Close.