Hearing from Prophets

IMG_8223 The Prophet Isaiah by Fr James BradleyImagine being the wife of the prophet Isaiah. The wife of the man who tradition suggests was sawed in two by King Manasseh. What might you have said to him when he came home after a long day at work? “Isaiah – the people and leaders – they’re not happy, Isaiah. Hold back, Isaiah. Don’t speak so strongly, Isaiah. Say something easier to hear, Isaiah. You’re a father and husband. I need you here with me. This isn’t safe, Isaiah.”

The reality is, Isaiah’s wife was also a prophet (Isaiah 8:3), so she understood her husband’s calling and probably didn’t say these things too often. But we would understand if she did. We probably would have!

The dangerous exploits and trials Israel’s prophets faced as they walked closely with the Lord, speaking forth His truth, are detailed in Hebrews 11. Prophets faced torture, jeers, flogging, chains, imprisonment, persecution and destitution. The writer of Hebrews says, “The world was not worthy of them.” (Heb 11:38) Jesus too noted the prophets’ grave mistreatment saying, “Jerusalem! Jerusalem! You kill the prophets and throw stones in order to kill those who are sent to you.” (Mt 23:37)

But, not all prophets spoke God’s truth. It’s easy to imagine great pressure existed for prophets to “lighten up” or “water down” or somehow alter God’s difficult words. Peer pressure is not an invention of the 21st century – it existed in biblical times too! In fact, we read of one such encounter in 2 Chronicles 18:12-13: “A messenger went to get Micaiah. He said to him, ‘Look. The other prophets agree. All of them are saying the king will have success. So agree with them. Say the same thing they do.’ But Micaiah said, ‘You can be sure that the Lord lives. And you can be just as sure that I can only tell the king what my God says.’”

Beloved 1 John 4_1 by Chris YarzabMicaiah resisted the temptation to say the easy thing – the thing everyone wanted to hear – the thing that most people were saying. Micaiah was committed to God’s truth. And we know that Micaiah was not alone. Despite the danger true prophets faced, their faithfulness to speak forth God’s message of judgment, correction and ultimately redemption was necessary for the people of God whose lives and faith had veered.

In truth, God’s people had not intentionally gone astray. Instead they had become comfortable, greedy, eager for power, and concerned about themselves and their safety. They traded relying on God with looking to Kings and Chariots. They saw God’s grace resting on them alone, and forgot that God is the God of the marginalized, oppressed, voiceless, aliens, foreigners, and forgotten. They even still worshiped, prayed, and participated in the Holy Days. Yet their lives failed to be fully characterized by God’s core values.

Recently in Bible Study we discussed whether prophets still exist today. I believe they do. At least I hope they do. Today, we also have lives and faith that have veered. We still need prophets who will faithfully speak messages of God’s judgment, correction and redemption.

However, history tells us prophets were very rarely liked, very rarely heard, and very rarely welcomed. They were seen as divisive, dangerous, demanding, and doom-and-gloomers. Only a faithful remnant recognized God’s truths in the prophets’ words, and repented. The majority of the prophets’ audience questioned the prophets’ faith, challenged their words, besmirched their name, and threatened their lives. How will history tell our story – the story of the American Church in 2017? As prophets speak, will we listen or leer? Will we respond or repudiate? Will we accept or attack?

May we, the Church, be humble in these difficult days. May we be willing to hear prophetic words which challenge our complacency and comfort. May we not so quickly dismiss words that we perceive to be divisive, dangerous, demanding or doom-and-gloom. May we faithfully seek to align ourselves with the marginalized, oppressed, voiceless, aliens, foreigners, and forgotten. May we honestly pause, reflect, and prayerfully respond, “Speak Lord, for your servant is listening!”