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The Magazine of The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America

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The prophets

Jesus hears their call for justice, and he grows to understand himself

All four of the Gospel writers—Matthew, Mark, Luke and John—record Jesus uttering a version of the saying that “a prophet is not honored in their own country or among their own people.” Even before Jesus knew this from his own experience, he first knew it was the experience of the historic prophets of Israel.

In the temples of his youth, Jesus learned about the lives, times and writings of those prophets, including the various ways they were rejected by the very people they were sent to speak a word to. The consistent reason for their rejection centered on their difficult task of bringing God’s word of justice into the midst of society’s unjust conditions. That kind of critique is usually hard to hear, especially from your own people.

God’s passion for justice is always at the center of what a prophet of God is sent to proclaim. Prophets are sent as “forth-tellers” of God’s heart, a heart that always desires us to be in right relationship with one another. So God’s heart rejoices when we act with justice toward one another, and God’s heart is broken when we don’t. In fact, God is so deeply moved on behalf of the oppressed when we don’t treat each other justly that God sends prophets into our midst to tell us so.

The primary message of the historic prophets of Israel, then, was based on a moral, social and political judgment that was meant to challenge the status quo and to effect moral, social and political change in society. That judgment and change were always based on justice—the living out of right relationship with one another so the full fruits of life are available to all, not just to a few. The prophet Amos summarizes the prophetic message for all time when he says: “But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream” (Amos 5:24).


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