Who is a prophet in your life?
Last Sunday during youth formation we wondered about who and what prophets are. Here is some of what we came up with: People who tell the truth – and are often brutally honest. People who give us reality checks, or maybe advice about how we should be living or what we should be doing. As Cristina preached in her sermon, prophets “call things exactly as they see them, or rather, exactly as they are; not how we might wish for things to be, or how it would be more comfortable, or more convenient, for things to be.” And always prophets point us to God, God’s love for us, and God’s vision for the world.
And so we asked, who are the prophets our own lives? Who are some prophets we might think of today?
A grandmother who offers her own clarion opinions and insights came up as an example. Friends who tell us the truth, even when we don’t want to hear it. Greta Thunberg, the young environmental activist, whose actions challenged powerful adults around the world to act on climate change; the Black Lives Matter movement and its truth telling about the deeply rooted racism and violence experienced by black folks in the U.S. Colin Kaepernick and Megan Rapinoe, two athletes in the public eye who have protested police brutality and racial injustice (and, in Kaepernick’s case, were publicly castigated for it), as well as gender discrimination.
Who are prophets in your own life?
Often, I think of prophets as loud and splashy – and sometimes they are! Sometimes they have to be. Think of Mark’s description of John the Baptist, from Sunday, a man clothed in camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, eating locusts and wild honey out in the wilderness. He was a character with a following, so much that people sought him out at the river to be baptized. And he directed people to Jesus, the one who would come after them, who would baptize them with the Holy Spirit. And perhaps because he had a following – other Gospels attest to his disciples – or perhaps because he unsettled those in authority – he was arrested. (Mk 1)
Or think of Isaiah, who Mark quotes at the beginning of his Gospel. Isaiah had prophesied the judgement of his people and their exile in Babylon, along with a lot of judgement against other nations – sometimes walking naked and barefoot to do so! (Is. 20:2-3) Talk about a reality check. Among other things, Isaiah challenged people who wrote oppressive laws, who turned “aside the needy from justice,” and who robbed the poor of their rights. (Is. 10:1-2) He relayed God’s anger to them. But he also comforted his people as he prophesied their return from exile:
“Comfort, O comfort my people, says your God…[God] will feed his flock like a shepherd, he will gather the lambs in his arms, and carry them in his bosom, and gently lead the mother sheep.” (Is. 40:1,11)
Isaiah pointed his communities – and communities of neighboring peoples – to God’s justice and to God’s love, even, and perhaps especially, when they didn’t want to hear it.
But prophets don’t have to be loud and splashy. The friends I have who challenge my ways of thinking and acting or who remind me that I’m beloved (which is its own kind of prophetic voice) aren’t walking in the street naked to do so. They’re calling and texting and checking in, and I’m trying to do the same for them, too. They remind me where God is in the world around me, and how I can turn myself towards God when I get lost. Sometimes being lost can be so seductive, or so terrifying, that it’s easy to get stuck there, in the wilderness. Prophets, loud and splashy or more intimate, show us the way back to God.
I wonder – who are the prophets in your life?
One last thing: I think poets are prophets, too. They can tell us exactly how things are and point us towards God’s love and vision for the world all in one go. So here is a poem from one of my favorite prophets, Naomi Shihab Nye.
A man crosses the street in rain,
stepping gently, looking two times north and south,
because his son is asleep on his shoulder.
No car must splash him.
No car drive too near to his shadow.
This man carries the world’s most sensitive cargo
but he’s not marked.
Nowhere does his jacket say FRAGILE,
HANDLE WITH CARE.
His ear fills up with breathing.
He hears the hum of a boy’s dream
deep inside him.
We’re not going to be able
to live in this world
if we’re not willing to do what he’s doing
with one another.
The road will only be wide.
The rain will never stop falling.