The Charismatic Prophets--Reflections On The Book of Jeremiah

Recommended readings: Path Through Scripture by Fr. Mark Link (Paperback 1995--$14.50),  or Understanding the Bible: A Basic Introduction to Biblical Interpretation, by Fr. George T. Montague, S.M., (Paperback 1997 $15.96) 

  (To better understand this reflection, Read Jeremiah 26:1-24 
This passage from the book of Jeremiah reveals what biblical scholars have known for a long time. There were two kinds of prophets in ancient Israel. On the one hand, there were the guild prophets. These were educated and trained men who gave advice to the political and religious leaders of their day. It may be too strong to say they were well-paid "yes men" but they seldom shook the boat.

On the other hand, there were the charismatic prophets. These were individuals who felt a divine calling to deliver the word of the Lord to his people. Often, they were ordinary men with no formal religious or philosophical training. They appeared only in crisis situations where religion had run amok or where enemies were threatening destruction. Their role was to challenge the status quo with a fresh word of judgment or of reassurance.

It's not hard to find parallels to these two kinds of prophets in our society. We no longer recognize "prophet" as a calling but there are people who fill the prophet's role. Every politician surrounds himself with advisors who tell him what people are thinking and what course to follow. Every chief executive listens to advisors who read the market and forecast the future. But these people are paid to maximize the success of the leaders they serve. As such, they are like the guild prophets in ancient Israel.

Fortunately, we are not lacking examples of the charismatic prophets of old. There are commentators who rise above partisan politics in their critiques of society. There are statesmen who are more concerned about serving the common good than being reelected. While some clergy are more concerned about being popular, there are many clergy who call their congregation, whether they like it or not, to the highest demands of faith.

The prophet Jeremiah was a charismatic prophet and took on both the political and religious establishment of his day. He condemned the sins of the people high and low, and warned of God's coming judgment if they did not repent of their sins. That judgment would involve bringing the city of Jerusalem and its people to ruin. As such, Jeremiah's message of doom was tantamount to treason and blasphemy. The city of Jerusalem was the very center of political and religious life. God would never let his holy city fall. So the king and the princes along with the priests and the prophets were aligned against Jeremiah in calling for his death. But Jeremiah stood his ground because he knew that truth was on his side. He knew that his cause would prevail regardless of what happened to him because he was serving God's cause.

We may wonder at the bravery of ordinary people who take a stand for truth when they are putting themselves at risk to do so. Why does the witness to a crime come forward and testify against the perpetrator? Why don't witnesses just keep quite and mind their own business? Because they are bound to a higher norm than their own comfort. Why does the whistle blower report on his superiors? Doesn't he know that he will be labeled a liar and a snitch? But the whistle blower knows that he is answerable to a higher norm than his own safety.

The fact is that we Christians also know that we live under a moral imperative that transcends self-interest and even the laws of society. Were it not for that higher norm, life in this world would be a jungle in which survival of the fittest would be the only rule of behavior.


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