Ezekiel 2:5: Whether they listen or not, this set of rebels shall know there is a prophet among them.
Mark 6:4: A prophet is only despised in his own country, among his own relations and in his own house.
Today I'd like to reflect a little on the role of the prophet who, arguably, has the most difficult of all vocations. There are two kinds of prophets; false prophets and true prophets.
False prophets support and sustain people in their illusions about life and about themselves; they encourage self-deception. True prophets always attack self-deception and try to lead people, individuals and communities, into the way God sees things.
Every true prophet is a victim, a victim of the word of God which God has placed in his heart and which he is compelled to proclaim. A prophet is a man trapped. If he does not speak the word which turns us against him, the word itself will turn on him.
A prophet must sacrifice everything to the word and, as Jeremiah (20:9) shows us, it is futile to resist: I used to say, 'I will not think about him, I will not speak in his name any more. Then there seemed to be a fire burning in my heart, imprisoned in my bones. The effort to restrain it wearied me, I could not bear it.
Nor can a prophet be misled or disturbed or awed by loud voices or appearances because he has the gift which allows him to identify and keep his eyes on the truth of every matter. He is one who can see in the dark - whose eyes pierce the obscurity created by confusing facts and public opinion.
They said, ‘Where did the man get all this? What is this wisdom that has been granted him, and these miracles that are worked through him? This is the carpenter, surely, the son of Mary, the brother of James and Joset and Jude and Simon? His sisters, too, are they not here with us?’
Undoubtedly these were the facts. The people knew them all and listed them carefully and confidently and the end result of their knowing the facts was that: they would not accept him. But prophets don't deal in facts, they deal in truth. They are trapped by truth as we are ensnared by facts. Here are some more facts:
- Martha said to him, Lord, by now he will smell; this is the fourth day (Jn 11:39).
- Your daughter has died. Do not trouble the Master any further (Lk 8:49).
- There is a small boy here with five barley loaves and two fish; but what is that between so many (Jn 6:9)?
Because he speaks the truth and because we are steeped in lies, a prophet is always confronting. He speaks truths that are hidden from us and from which we hide. He takes us by surprise, catches us off guard. His words are confronting because they are always about the God we forget, or about ourselves, whom we think we know.
We live sometimes so deeply embedded in untruths or half-truths that to hear the words of a prophet is to feel assaulted, insulted, humiliated. In his words we see a thief who is trying to steal from us our carefully crafted illusions and though his words may be whispered, the whisper of truth, we hear them as the shout of a bully.
Each age seeks its own ways to dismiss the prophet. He is never welcome; he must be eliminated from the scene. A prophet says precisely what we do not wish to hear. He spoils our fun. He warns us of consequences we deny. He tells us we are wrong.
A prophet is the arch-enemy of the liar, even should the liar be an entire nation, a whole planet. He still overturns us because he cares for us and about us. He loves us.
He has responsibility for us because he is one of us. His life is bound to ours. He takes us more seriously than we take ourselves. He is our shepherd - the shepherd of God's flock. The prophet is a sentry who never sleeps. He warns us about the enemy who approaches from afar and the one who emerges from within - fuelled by the power of our disordered hearts and our evil actions.
The prophet is therefore always warning us about ourselves who are so ready to displease God - to find our own way. He is close to God and calls us to be close to God - to listen and obey. A prophet calls us to be reconciled to God - and to one another.