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The prophetic task

Unfortunately, the vision of Jesus the Prophet has become quite domesticated over the centuries. As life got more comfortable from generation to generation, prophecy became reduced to Christian rituals, to public “witness” of our own private spiritual lives. We learned that the good life was about saying our prayers regularly.
As time went by, the spiritual path came to be more and more about us: our salvation, our public identity, our eternal rewards, our very special, very safe institutional ministries. Gone were the grubby and the outcast around us, gone were the forgotten or forsaken. These kind, we figured, should do it for themselves. After all, we had.
Yet the truth is that in every period, the prophetic task was the same: to interpret the present in light of the Word of God so that new worlds could be envisioned and new attitudes developed that would eventually make the world a better place.
The needs of God’s people today are no less pressing, no more acceptable today than they ever were before. Destitute immigrants languish on our borders begging for help. They risk their lives, their families, and even their children to live a decent and dignified life. In the United States, not one state in the union offers a two-bedroom apartment cheaply enough for families who earn a minimum wage to rent it. Which is why, of course, so many young families live in their cars these days waiting to hear a prophet’s cry in their behalf.

It is now our task, as individuals, as intentional groups, wherever we are on the social spectrum, to shine a light on their lives and to insist that others see it, too. It is the task of each of us to be their voice until they can be heard themselves. It is the individual prophet’s task, whatever we do and wherever we are, to point out their absence in society, their needs, the inequities they bear. It is our task to give them hope, to give them possibility, to help the outcasts to fit in.

But prophets are never mainstream. They hold a completely different vision of life than do most. In fact, they hold the rest of the vision of holiness, the part that seldom is taught in the same breath as charity or morality or good citizenship. They are the other half of Christianity, the forgotten half of the spirituality of the Christian world. They see what’s missing in the world around them and set out to see that the world supplies it for those who need it most. They value other ends in life than the ones toward which most of the world strains—for too much wealth, too much power, and too much distance from the dailiness of the daily.

The prophet in this day—facing a world where rugged individualism reigns and those who can’t make it on their own are easily forgotten—now must do more than simply serve. They must lead this world beyond its present divisions of race and gender, of national identity and economic class. Yes, the prophet is always out of step with the average response to pain or want or loss or oppression. They are always disturbingly different, always stirring up the consciousness of those left behind, always confronting a world that obstructs them, always on a path toward the Kingdom rather than the palace.

         —from The Time Is Now: A Call to Uncommon Courage (Penguin Random House), by Joan Chittister