Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Prophets

the prophet Amos
Prophets are not primarily predictors of the future. In fact, predicting the future is not the essence of the prophetic summons. Prophets are commentators on and critics of the present. Of course, what we do or choose not to do in the present has implications for the future. These implications are not divine rewards and punishments. Rather, they are the natural consequences of our acting, or our refusal to act. After all, there are no effects without causes. Jesus, who is the prophet par excellence, calls this discerning the signs of the time. A good summary of prophets and prophecy is that, at least from a more objective (i.e., outside-the-immediate-milieu) stand-point, prophets quite frequently just point out what should be obvious.

The prophetic message, which calls Christians to fidelity to the new and everlasting covenant, established with us by YHWH through Jesus Christ (and does not supersede YHWH's first covenant with Israel), is not really that different from the prophets of old. The message of those, like Dorothy Day, Martin Luther King, Jr., Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Cesar Chavez, Bobby Kennedy, Hrant Dink, et. al., bears a remarkable resemblance to the so-called pre-literary prophets, such as Amos and Hosea, both of whom were outsiders, non-institutional figures. The fidelity to which we are called is to the two great commandments: loving God with all our hearts, might, minds, and strength, and loving our neighbors as ourselves, with the understanding that our neighbor is not necessarily every other person, but the person we encounter who is in need, like the man robbed, beaten, and left to die in Jesus' parable of the Good Samaritan.

To be sure, we must be discerning. There are false prophets, many who call us to fidelity to false values that are at odds with both God and nature. Recognizing the dignity of every human being does not entail supporting an ambiguous and meaningless freedom-as-an-end-in-itself agenda, a so-called progressive agenda. People who falsely claim the prophetic mantle seek to usher in, not the kingdom of God, but a nihilistic utopia, a genuine place of nowhere. In such a place the individual, the dreaded self, with all its distorted wants and desires, not only remains unchecked, but catered to, indulged, an idol sacrilegiously placed on the altar of what is meant to be the temple of the Spirit. A place where freedom of choice, regardless of what the choice is, is the highest value. This is exemplified well in the song, So Lonely, sung by the Police: "in this desert that I call my soul/I always play the starring role/So lonely". Here there can be no communio. Hence, it resembles hell, outer darkness, the pit of the self that yearns, but never turns to what will satisfy it, God alone.

A prophet is not honored her own country because the prophet tells the truth, brings the shadow side into the light. While prophets can be members of the hierarchy, like Jeremiah, Isaiah, and Ezekiel, they usually are not. Even when they are members, once they receive the prophetic calling, their speaking the truth casts them as outsiders. I have in mind here two great Latin American archbishops, Hélder Câmara and Óscar Romero. Neither of these two prelates who spoke truth to power are canonized. In the case of Romero, as pertains to the Christian tradition of being a saint, which, until the eighteenth century, was a bottom-up endeavor, he is a saint. He is rightly venerated by his own people and many of us beyond. The bureaucratic process (a classic case of the Weberian institutionalization of charisma) to raise him to the altar is stalled because of the feared political implications almost thirty years later. This fear is ironic given Romero's courage, which cost him his life, thus demonstrating both his witness (martyria) as well as his heroic virtue.

In the words of the late Bob Marley: "how long shall they kill our prophets, while we stand aside and look?"

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