Today’s readings (click below to open in new tab/window):
Psalms 34; 146, Jeremiah 2:1-13, 29-32, Romans 1:16-25, John 4:43-54
Popular culture, and even some corners of Christian culture, portray prophets as a sort of mysterious oracles revealing the future through puzzle-like symbols and coded language. Modern self-styled prophets are famous for predicting the end of the world, and infamous for batting zero while bilking the gullible. We lump this distorted image of prophets in with psychics, clairvoyants, and fortune tellers. The Biblical prophet, however, was not on a road to popularity and wealth. Prophesying was dangerous work; some prophets paid with their lives for confronting a community that had lost its way to idols and injustice.
Prophets like Jeremiah used language and symbols that may need clarification today, but would have been familiar to his audience. Their ultimate goal was not to mystify and condemn, but to convict and save. The warning of a harsh future came with a promise: God loved his people too much to abandon them, and when once again the people learned to properly love him back there would be reconciliation.
Consider these words of the Lord delivered by Jeremiah:
They have forsaken me,
the fountain of living water,
and dug out cisterns for themselves,
that can hold no water.
These words were about more than disobedience; they addressed how the people brought ruin upon themselves. When we substitute our own values and plans for those God has given us, they will ultimately fail us. Like cracked cisterns, they may seem to hold water for a while, but eventually we will find them to be empty and we will be desperate for the real thing.
Jesus also referred to himself as the living water. His message echoed the messages of the prophets who preceded him, and he knew “a prophet has no honor in the prophet’s own country.” When a prophet tells us what we don’t want to hear, it’s not time to get defensive: it’s time to seek hope through repentance. Christ’s message of radical justice and inclusion was most difficult for those who believed they had a lock on God and religion. When listening for prophetic voices, humility serves us well.
Comfort: God would rather forgive us than condemn us.
Challenge: We have to seek forgiveness before it can be granted.
Prayer: Merciful God, I will listen for your authentic voice. Teach me to hear it. Amen.
Discussion: When have you benefited from hearing something you didn’t want to?
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