My friends, last week we talked a good deal about the call that each of us has to be a prophet, in our own personal lives, where we stand, where we live, where we engage our world. We also discussed last week the seeming difference between the God of Moses, a vindictive God and the God of Jesus, a God of love.
In today’s first reading, we encounter the power of Amos the prophet, and realize that it is the prophets who call the people of the Old Testament to be their best selves. There is no way to get around Amos’ message today or to get it wrong—ignoring the needs of the poor in our midst for personal gain is not to be tolerated! Present day examples: the incarcerated on our southern border—the homeless throughout this great country of ours, climate change as diagnosed by the lion’s share of scientists, something that eventually will affect the entire world and its people.
I think of another of the Old Testament prophets—one of my favorites, Micah, who said, in chapter 6:8, “God has already made abundantly clear what ‘good’ is, and what YHWH needs from you: simply do justice, love kindness, and humbly walk with your God.”
The prophecy continues in Paul’s letter to Timothy today on the danger of “power” in our lives and especially, “power in the hands of rulers.” His prayer for these individuals and ours, he encourages, should be that they, who would purport to have power over others, “may be able to live godly and reverent lives.”
As I think over my life and the people I have witnessed who have been given authority to lead, it has been clear to me that those who do best with it, come into the position with a great deal of humility, realizing the gift that they have been given is all about service to others. If it becomes service to themselves and how to get ahead, they always, ultimately, fail. The world is not better for them having been there and it takes a good deal of effort on the parts of others afterward, to basically, clean up the mess. You can probably think of such individuals in your own lives or in our greater world who have abused their gift to lead.
Jesus’ words in Luke’s gospel for this week are more of the prophetic in how best to live our lives. At face value, we might wonder at what Jesus is trying to teach with this story—is he really telling us that the dishonesty of the steward, in basically taking care of himself is to be praised? Exegetes tell us, “no”—that Jesus is really lifting up, “creativity,” in finding a way to better a situation; serving not just ourselves, but the needy in our midst—this comes with the territory in claiming to be a Christian.
I came upon an article this past week entitled, “The Dead Theology of Thoughts and Prayers,” with regard to an answer to our crisis with guns in this country. The writer was basically appealing to the creativity that Jesus is lifting up today. “Thoughts and prayers” may have sufficed at one time as a response to the pain, suffering and grief caused through gun violence and we have probably all reverted to it in the past. Those days my friends are gone!
Being a follower of Jesus or any other manifestation of God in this world demands the type of action that betters the situation—calling and writing our Congress people, demanding that they become the leaders they were elected to be. Prophets speak truth to power, whether it shows itself in our country, our city, or within our families.
In this regard, we must remember the prophetic words of Amos today about the responsibility of claiming power, of acting justly, or the more succinct words of the prophet, Micah, that we “simply do justice and love kindness.”
Recently, I was reminded of the beautiful story of Jacob in the Old Testament. You will recall that as a young man Jacob stole his older brother Esau’s inheritance through a deceptive act. As an older, more mature, and even spiritual man; Jacob became repentant and returned to his brother, seeking forgiveness. As the story goes, Jacob was able to embrace his brother and say, “Coming into your presence is like coming into the presence of God.”
My friends, it would seem that when we can face others with more open hearts, becoming listeners of others’ stories—what they in fact, walk with, struggle with, then and only then, will we be able to see the face of God in our midst. And that really is the goal, isn’t it? It is this that gets us beyond, “thoughts and prayers” to action—to being prophets as our brother Jesus was! Amen? Amen!