It’s tough being a prophet—a spokesperson for God. In our world we’d probably call prophets press secretaries or publicists. These jobs are difficult because the messages they’re called to speak aren’t their own. And sometimes the messages are unpopular or even offensive.
Moses was visiting a burning bush that wasn’t being burned up—and God spoke to him out of the bush. “Moses, I’ve got a job for you to do. Go down into Egypt and tell ole Pharaoh to let my people go.” Well, Moses wasn’t born yesterday—he was wise enough to know that this message wasn’t going to go down well with Pharaoh, so he tried to get out of this prophet thing. “God, I don’t speak well. I get tongue tied. Send someone else.” But in the end, God prevailed, and Moses headed off to do his bidding.
Amos is another example. He was from the southern kingdom of Judah, and was called by God to go to the northern kingdom of Israel to prophesy there. He was in the chapel in Bethel saying things like this:
Woe to you who are rushing headlong to disaster!
Catastrophe is just around the corner!
Woe to those who live in luxury
and expect everyone else to serve them!
Woe to those who live only for today,
indifferent to the fate of others!
Woe to the playboys, the playgirls,
who think life is a party held just for them! (Amos 6:3-4)
Then Amaziah, the head priest, confronted Amos.
Seer, be on your way! Get out of here and go back to Judah where you came from! Do your preaching there. But no more preaching at Bethel! Don’t show your face here again. This is the king’s sanctuary. This is a royal shrine.
But Amos stood up to Amaziah:
I never set out to be a prophet, never had plans to be a prophet. I raised cattle and I pruned trees for a living. Then God took me off the farm and said, “Go preach to my people Israel.”
So listen to God’s Word. You tell me, “Don’t preach to Israel. Don’t say anything against the king and his court.” But here’s what God is telling you:
Your wife will become a harlot in town.
Your children will be killed.
Your land will be auctioned off.
You will die homeless and friendless.
And Israel will be hauled off to exile, far from home. (Amos 7:12-17)
See what I mean? Prophets aren’t generally popular. They’re frequently ridiculed, threatened, run out of town, even killed.
And so it was that Jesus went home to Nazareth and to the synagogue where he read from the prophet Isaiah. At first they seemed to be proud of their hometown boy who’d been making a name for himself. And they wanted him to do some miracles like he’d done over in Capernaum.
“You should take care of us first. We’re your people. Put Nazareth back on the map again,” they said.
Then Jesus said,
But the truth is, there were many widows in Israel in the time of Elijah, when the heaven was shut up three years and six months, and there was a severe famine over all the land; yet Elijah was sent to none of them except to a widow at Zarephath in Sidon. There were also many lepers in Israel in the time of the prophet Elisha, and none of them was cleansed except Naaman the Syrian.”
The point is that God is the God of all people, not just the folk in Nazareth, or Galilee, or even Israel. Foreigners and immigrants fall within God’s care and qualify for God’s grace like the widow of Zarephath and Naaman the Syrian. And that’s when the hometown people got angry.
When they heard this, all in the synagogue were filled with rage. They got up, drove him out of the town, and led him to the brow of the hill on which their town was built, so that they might hurl him off the cliff.
What gets lost or drowned out in the news cycle and the political battles of our time on the right and the left is the voice of God’s spokespersons—the prophetic voices. It’s often not a popular message, because it’s not about scoring points, winning elections, or getting rich. It’s about love—God’s love for the weak, the poor, the broken, the refugees, the hungry, the prisoners, the sick, the addicted, the lost ones—as well as God’s love for the those of us who are doing OK at the moment.
How do we know what love looks and sounds like? St. Paul, wrote about it in Chapter 13 of his First Letter to the Corinthians. I would venture to say that many people think Paul wrote it for a wedding, since it’s read in about 90% of all Christian weddings. But that’s not the case—Paul wrote I Corinthians 13 in the middle of a big church fight where factions were battling over control of the church in Corinth. So he laid out these ground rules for how to disagree and to fight—with love.
Here’s a paraphrase:
Love never gives up.
Love cares as much for others as for self.
Love doesn’t want what it doesn’t have.
Love doesn’t strut,
Doesn’t have a swelled head,
Doesn’t force itself on others,
Isn’t always “me first,”
Doesn’t fly off the handle,
Doesn’t keep score of the sins of others,
Doesn’t revel when others grovel,
Takes pleasure in the flowering of truth,
Puts up with anything,
Trusts God always,
Always looks for the best,
Never looks back,
But keeps going to the end.
Love is the message of the prophets. It’s the message that Jesus brought to his hometown. It’s a message that’s often rejected—even crucified. And yet, “Faith, hope, and love abide. These three. But the greatest of these is love.”