This week my brother priests are gathered for our annual Fall Retreat. Our subject this year is the Biblical Prophets and we are being led through a set of reflections by Sister Timothea Elliot. Sister Timothea has a wealth of knowledge on the Scriptures and is doing an excellent job of bringing the prophets to life for us.
I would like to share a few of her thoughts from earlier this morning in which she addressed “the function of the prophet”. The first thing that struck me in her reflection was the description of the prophet as a man of God. She contrasted these men of God such as Elijah and Elisha as those standing against the false prophets of the Canaanites, otherwise known as the prophets of Baal. These false prophets spent their time gaining favor with the powers that be by telling them what they wanted to hear. Far from being God’s men, they were more along the lines of being yes men.
Here are the six functions of a prophet, as shared with us this morning by Sister Timothea:
1) The first and primary role of the prophet is to bear the Word of God. If one is to bring the Word of God to others, one must first hear it. “When I found your words, I devoured them; they became my joy and the happiness of my heart.” (Jeremiah 15:16)
2) The prophet is one who intercedes for the people. “But Moses implored the Lord, his God, saying, ‘Why, O Lord, should your wrath blaze up against your own people, whom you brought out of the land of Egypt with such great power and with so strong a hand? Why should the Egyptians say, ‘With evil intent he brought them out, that he might kill them in the mountains and exterminate them from the face of the earth?’ Let your blazing wrath die down; relent in punishing your people’” (Exodus 32:11-12)
3) The prophet uses Tradition to interpret the present and point to the future. Sister pointed out to us that the Hebrew word for future literally means, “what is behind you”. In other words, they pointed to how the events happening in the present and future have surpassed the events of the past, but are in continuity with those in the past and deepen our understanding of those past events. The theologian Hans Walter Wolff described this function with the analogy of a rowboat where the rower looks back to a landmark on the shore in order to set course for their destination.
4) The prophet is one who lives as a sign. The very life and actions of a prophet convey the message of God to his people. We might think to the prophet Hosea whose marriage to a prostitute communicated God’s faithfulness to his people even when they themselves were unfaithful.
5) The prophet is one who unmasks idols. Perhaps the most famous example of this is found in the First Book of Kings in the encounter between Elijah and the prophets of Baal. The message is clear throughout all the prophets that we should place our trust only in God.
6) The prophet gives witness to the big picture. When people are myopic in their vision, the prophet is the one who points them to see the long view of God’s plan.
So far our retreat has been full of things to learn about the prophets and to reflect upon how they apply to my own life and ministry. I look forward to listening to more of what Sister Timothea has prepared for us this week.