The Prophetic Voice
You just have to admire Chicken Little. Even in a fable, it takes great courage for a little chick to inform the entire poultry community that the sky is falling. The major flaw in his prophetic message was, to be sure, that Chicken Little was dead wrong. Because of this flaw, Chicken Little and all his friends ended up in Foxy Loxy’s larder.
This well-known children’s story is reenacted in the real world every day. Loud and sometimes strident voices announce the sky is falling in the economy, in immigration, in politics, in the federal government and in almost all of the social issues of the day. (Sometimes the Chicken Littles might even deny the sky is falling when it comes to the environment, gun violence, or climate change.) Often these voices blame the most marginalized in society for causing the sky to fall.
Great numbers of people do what the birds in the barnyard did and fully accept without question minimal or even false evidence as true and act accordingly.
The tradition of prophecy lies in speaking truth to power not in rabble rousing. If we look to the biblical prophets for a clue, we notice right away that those prophets are driven by a thirst for justice. Amos and Jeremiah had a powerful sense of the plight of the poor and spoke out for social justice. Although the age of biblical prophecy is over, there is still a need for both individuals and organizations to speak up for justice, for peace, and for true freedom.
A prophetic voice is rarely easy to hear. Prophetic words and prophetic actions are most often directed to the most powerful in society. True prophetic voices are threatening to the comfortable and to the willfully ignorant. We need to develop an ear for the prophetic, too. We need to recognize and appreciate the prophets that come forth in every generation to challenge wealth, power, and comfort, and–most especially–to give a voice to those who have none.
This coming Sunday’s Gospel demonstrates that the words of the prophet are not always welcomed with cheers and ticker-tape parades. The Gospel is a continuation of Jesus’ appearance in his hometown synagogue. His further explanation of his ministry of glad tidings to the poor and liberation to captives was met with the equivalent of “Who is this guy anyway, and what right does he have to talk this way?!”
The congregation was so incensed by Jesus’ prophetic voice that the group was ready to throw Jesus off a cliff. It seems that the lot of the prophet is to be scorned, belittled, and even persecuted. The true prophetic voice in today’s society is not out for financial gain or power. The true prophetic voice witnesses to the kingdom of peace and justice that needs to prevail if we are to live together and work together for the greater good of all.
At the heart of the prophetic voice–as with all spiritual gifts–is love, as Sunday’s reading from Saint Paul’s letter points out. Understanding that prophecy comes from the loving heart, can help us all to understand and heed the prophet.
If I speak in human and angelic tongues,
but do not have love,
I am a resounding gong or a clashing cymbal.
And if I have the gift of prophecy,
and comprehend all mysteries and all knowledge;
if I have all faith so as to move mountains,
but do not have love, I am nothing.
If I give away everything I own,
and if I hand my body over so that I may boast,
but do not have love, I gain nothing.
1 Corinthians 12:32-35
Look for the love and for the care and concern for others the next time some talk show host or demagogue tells you the sky is falling.