All of our Bible lections today will deal with the role of the “prophet.” We begin in our Hebrew Bible lection by reading the call narrative of Jeremiah. We learn in this call narrative that Jeremiah was selected for the vocation of prophet before he was even in the womb of his mother. God’s acknowledgment of Jeremiah’s preordained prophetic vocation is meant to show the prophet (and all those called to similar vocation) that their place and voice in the world is not an accident. God has “placed” the prophet in Israel to serve God’s master plan. Just as God has placed the church in the world as a prophetic voice for the kingdom of God. Jeremiah is reluctant because he feels unprepared for such a heavy calling. God’s word to him is calming: “Do not be afraid for I am with you to deliver you…I have put your words in my mouth.” God then explains to Jeremiah where Jeremiah ranks in the divine political economy, “See, today I appoint you over nations and over kingdoms.” Similarly the church is a transnational (even above-national) prophetic voice given the word of God to proclaim to the world.
Psalm 71 offers a wonderful response to the call narrative of Jeremiah. The office of “Prophet” is not an easy one to fill. The prophet is continually assaulted by the powers that be who have a vested interest in not upsetting the status quo with divine words of
justice. Psalm 71 is a reminder that God is a refuge (A Mighty Fortress–as this Psalm and Luther’s hymn reminds us). The Psalm asks that God rescue the psalmist from shame and from the grasp of the unjust and cruel. The Psalmist also echoes the preordained language
of Jeremiah 1 by asserting, “Upon you I have leaned from my birth; it was you who took me from my mother’s womb.”
1 Corinthians 13:1-13
Our epistle reading offers a word of caution to the prophet. Prophetic work can create an angry and bitter personality. The powers of the this world are cruel, and the prophet is often the recipient of harm at the hands of the hearers of the prophet’s words. The prophet is often ignored and marginalized. The prophet is often lonely and impoverished. A prophet who does not daily renew themselves in the hope of God, and who does not develop a healthy theological anthropology (we are ALL [including the prophet] sinners in need of sanctification) can begin to prophesy in hatred and not love. Paul warns, “If I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing.” Jesus is a model for us all. In his prophetic ministry he looked out at the populace and had compassion
for them, for they were like “sheep without a shepherd.” Such should be the stance of all of God’s prophets.
Our gospel reading presents us with the second half of Jesus’ inaugural experience in his home town of Nazareth. After assuming the prophetic mantle of Isaiah in his preaching in the synagogue Jesus senses that the hearers are not respecting his prophetic role. He confronts them, “Doubtless you will quote to me this proverb, ‘Doctor, cure yourself.'” Jesus’ intuitive statement here is remarkable in that it names one of the chief weapons the powers use against the Word of God–prophet character assassination. This is a tricky business for the prophet and the church. We must admit that there is truth in this critique. At our best our prophetic voice utters forth from the mouths of those who are, as Henri Nouwen describes, “wounded healers.” However, the veracity of the message is not dependent upon the saintly/perfect status of the messenger. In the case of Jesus such a
tactic was misplayed. In our cases such a tactic sounds true–but the final analysis of the its deployment is still the same. The powers working against the word of God will do anything to silence the voice proclaiming the word and discredit the one speaking. It will not be long before these same character assassins have become literal assassins in their attempt to throw Jesus off a high cliff. Such is the life (and death) of the prophet. “If any would like become my followers, let them take up their cross and follow me.”
Celebration of Worship
As prepare your hearts, minds, prayers, and hymns for Sunday consider your (and the church’s) role as a prophetic mouth piece for the Word of God. In what ways have we been shown the power of God’s providence in bringing us to where we are. In what ways has God been a refuge and a mighty fortress for us? Have there been times when we acted out
of hatred and not out of love and thus lost the prophetic power? In what ways have we received injury for those that want the prophetic voice silenced? In what ways have we celebrated the very message we proclaim–the Kingdom of God has come near, prepare the way for the Lord.