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When a dominating minority is suppressing the well being and peaceful life of others some people will emerge from the very society hoping to fight and establish a new order where all will hopefully find the well being of whole community by removing the existing evil patterns and structures. We find this happening in our own Indian tradition and also in our Christian tradition where God sees the disorder, chaos and evil situation and manifests himself to overthrow the evil powers and establish new society of justice and peace. In Old Testament God revealed himself in historical events and situations after having heard the cry of the oppressed people and liberated them from oppressing situations and structures. Through prophets God had made his mind clear about the actual problems of society and the need of justice over slavery and oppression. God carried out this task by calling different people at different times. Today God calls each one of us to be the modern prophets in our own context; we have a role to play in building up a human community. It is a challenge and a duty of every human person to work for a just society. According to Sociologists Peter Burger and Thomas Luckmann: “The task of prophetic ministry is to nurture, nourish and evoke a consciousness and perception alternative to the consciousness and perception of the dominant culture around us.”
Spirituality, rightly understood and practised, is of immense concern to our world today, especially in its relationship to social and practical action. Spirituality, has to do with an age-old human quest to seek fulfilment, liberation and pointers towards transcendent amidst the welter of human experience. But today, more than ever before, spirituality is itself at the crossroads. It has become an empty and meaningless word for many people who feel deeply confused and confounded by the changes surrounding us. They are seeking a sense of direction and identity amidst the turmoil and divisions of the contemporary world. Many ask what are the fundamental values, the goal and meaning of life. Some claim that modern society is suffering from a materialistic world-view where ‘things of the spirit’ are neglected and they are seeking new paths towards an alternative spirituality. But the term ‘spirituality’ is easily misunderstood. It is still too often associated with an exclusively ‘religious’ or even ‘ascetic’ stance separate from the secular world. Many spiritual
teachers of the past have preached and practised a world denying spirituality based on a sharp separation which has been altogether unwholesome. However, spirituality must not be understood as something apart from or added on to life. Rather it is something, which permeates all human activities and experiences. So spirituality is the dynamic and challenging experience of God calling a human person and that person responding in faith, hope and love. Spirituality consists in the style of a person’s response to the grace of God before the challenge of everyday life in a given historical and cultural environment. Spirituality can be described as a process of transformation and growth, an organic and dynamic part of human development, of both individual and society. Spirituality has been defined as “an exploration into what is involved in becoming human.” or “an attempt to grow in sensitivity to self, to others, to non-human creation and to God who is within and beyond this totality.” (Quoted from The Scottish Church Council Working Party Report on “Spirituality’, Dunblane, Scottish Churches House, 1977, p.3). What these definitions emphasize is that spirituality is an integral, holistic and dynamic power in human life, both for individual and community. Spirituality means rising to an ever greater consciousness or awareness and ‘awakening’ to the centre and source of life and vitality. This source must be experienced even in the midst of changing circumstances and new demands for adjustment. It brings harmony in one’s being and becoming.
The Origins of Prophetical Movement
The origins of primitive prophetical movement go back to 11th century B.C. It arose as an ecstatic and a mantic movement in Syria and Canaan (ancient name for Palestine). It’s members looked and acted in a strange fashion and claimed to deliver oracles from some divinity that had taken possession of them. They are also been called “enthusiastic” as they seemed to be “in God” (possessed by God). When this movement slowly entered Israel it met with stiff opposition as being something quite foreign to their religious traditions. But gradually it was purified and legitimisation took place. That’s why we see some great personalities like Abraham (Gen. 20:7), Aaron (Ex. 7:1), Deborah and Miriam (Judg. 4:4; Ex 15:20), and Moses (Dt. 18:15) were given the prophetic title by retrojection. The retrojection portrays Hebrew conception of prophecy: direct conversation with Yahweh or through inspiration speak in his name.
Etymology & Meaning of the Word ‘Prophet’
The word ‘Prophet’ is derived from the Greek word “Prophetes”, which means one who speaks ‘in front of’ or ‘on behalf of’ or ‘beforehand’. Thus a prophet is not only one who foretells the
future but also one who speaks in the name of God and one who stands in front of an audience to address it. The word ‘prophet’ denotes almost always one who communicates divine revelation. We also need to remember that a prophet is a herald or one who makes an oral proclamation. The corresponding Hebrew word is ‘Nabi’. Its etymology is with an Akkadian verb ‘nabu’ meaning to call. There is uncertainty about the meaning of the etymology of the word. Some scholars derive it from the Akkadian root meaning, “to call,” “speak aloud” and interpret it as “speaker” Others relate it to the Arabian root which means “to bubble” showing the frenetic character of prophetic utterances. But W.F. Albright derives it from the Akkadian root used as “one called” (by God to speak for him). At this juncture we could recall that the prophets always referred that they were called by God to speak on his behalf and they have left behind an account of their call by Yahweh (Am. 7: 10-17, Is. 6, Jer. 1:4-10 etc.). A prophet is called by God to speak on His behalf. The prophet must be inspired by God and delegated by God to speak on his behalf to the people hence the set formula “Thus speaks Yahweh.” His prophetic vocation is compelling even though he may be unwilling or not even have the talent for prophecy (Am. 3: 7-8, Jer. 1: 78). The words he speaks are not his own personal words, but words communicated to him by God. This communication involves visual and auditory experience. Some Old Testament prophets were involved in the internal and external politics of Israel to bring sanity into the worship of Yahweh in Israel.
The Situation of Israel
Prophecy played a significant role in the social, religious and political activities of Ancient Israel. This precisely is the task of the prophets, to be the voice of the Lord, to assert God’s own sovereignty over his people against political and social pressure. They castigate the sin and faithlessness of king and people and warn of the consequences of their falling away from Yahweh. Yet the same prophets proclaim Yahweh’s faithfulness and final salvation in spite of Israel’s failure, his promise to restore his people, to gather them again from exile and lead them out of the tomb of desolation and death back into the land of salvation. The early prophets condemned the misuse that had swept through the political, moral and social life of Israel. Inevitably the highly centralised political and administrative structures produced and elite group in which money and power were concentrated. Amos pronounced his woe over the luxurious life of the nobility in the Northern Kingdom (A. 6: 4-6). Such luxury is possible only at the expense of the poor and is invariably connected with corruption and venality. Hosea complains bitterly that the substance of the covenant has been abandoned: “ There is no faithfulness or kindness and no knowledge of God in the land. There is swearing, lying, killing, stealing and adultery” (Hos. 4,1). All this can’t be remedied by rituals in the temple. The heart of
the nation must be turned to Yahweh again. “desire steadfast love and not sacrifice, the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings” (Hos 6, 6). Prophets were different in character, and their message changed according to the situation to which they addressed themselves: situations of affluence or poverty, of political power or helplessness. Yet there is coherence in their message: it is actually through the prophets and their continued interpretation of situations and events that Israel developed an understanding of the continuity of history from Exodus through the decadence of the monarchy to a final renewal, as it is unfolded, in Ez. 16. The people are aware of God’s consistent plan and guidance. It is the same Yahweh who speaks through all the prophets and is with his people in all their experiences, the same transcendent God and sovereign Lord, yet uniquely involved in the fate and destiny of his people. The prophets become transparent to God’s own continued presence and concern for his own. Through their call narratives we also realize that prophets were ordinary people chosen by God from the community to carry out a specific task. Sometimes they had difficulty in accepting the call. They were hesitant to respond. Once they were given the assurance they carried out their responsibility with dedication and were ready to face the consequences and thus suffered a lot in their lives. They had the experience of God. They were men of word and vision. They not only accused the people but also exhorted them to change their lives in the name of God. They also warned people on time of the impending danger and many times gave them the hope through their oracles of weal, forgiveness and restoration.
Prophetical Themes and their implications in my life
Prophets both major and minor had specific goals to achieve. They strive to keep the nation faithful to the true religion. The inner urge that they had within them was like ‘wild fire’ and in their proclamation and instructions different themes emerged: Idea of God Covenant as Foundation A new Covenant Social Justice International Justice Sin and repentance Harlotry Messianism Trust and faith in Yahweh (Future Salvatin/Hope) Religion (Cult, Priesthood)
Idea of God
When we speak of the idea of God what we try to express is the experience of God by a particular people in a given historical context. Prophetism of Israel expresses Yahweh’s sovereignty over, and love and concern for, his people. Israel’s conception of God cannot be pressed into a simple formula: God is totally transcendent, sovereign; creation and the world are nothing before him. Yet God’s people experience his intimate closeness; he is concerned for them when they cry to him from bondage and through the covenant he makes them his own. This tension between divine transcendence and immanence is found whenever man comes to a deeper awareness of God and his relation to the world. In Indian tradition it is perceived in the cosmos and in the depth of human experience: “He is without and within”, “no one sees him with the eye”, and yet “they who know him with heart and mind as abiding in the heart become immortal”. (Svetasvatara Upanishad, 4, 20). The peculiarity of the biblical revelation is the encounter with God in history. Israel’s basic experience is Exodus, God’s liberating action on behalf of his people. Yet in this closeness of God and in his involvement with their life, described in gross anthropomorphic terms, Israel experiences God’s absolute transcendence, expressed not so much in cosmic terms as in his total sovereignty and freedom, and ultimately as his incomprehensible, free, unconditional love for his people. Never can Yahweh be manipulated, to fall in line with the desires of his people. They are chosen, loved and guided by him, and so it becomes their task - and this is the real meaning of Israel’s history – to realise God’s own design for them in the concrete political and social reality of their nation. This history unfolds in the dialectic between prophets and kings: God’s sovereign freedom and concern for the people revealed in the prophets, and the institutionalised political and social history of the nation personified in kings and priests. In the prophetical books we find implicit monotheism in the pre-exilic prophets and explicit monotheism only in the post exilic prophets. Monotheism means, “there is only one God”. Amos is the first one to speak of monotheism among the prophets. In the first two chapters of Amos we see that Yahweh is taking to task not only Israel (Judah) to task for their crimes and sins but also the neighbouring nations. Yahweh uses these nations as an instrument to punish and save Israel. But nowhere in the pre-exilic prophets we find a strict doctrine of Monotheism. In the post-exilic times in Deutero Isaiah, Yahweh, the God of Israel says “… there is no other God besides me…” (Is 45:21). Deuteronomy 6: 4 originally stressed the uniqueness of Yahweh and not the unicity of Yahweh “hear, O Israel: The LORD is our God, the LORD alone.” But in the post-exilic times it was interpreted monotheistically.
Covenant as Foundation
Israel experienced God as one who enters into a covenantal relationship with his people. Israel was a covenantal community (Gn. 26: 28, 31: 34, Ex 2: 23-24’ 6:4, 34:28, Lv. 7:12). It was a distinctive feature of Israelite’s religion that the interconnection between the relationship to one’s neighbour and to God established by the covenant. The quality of one’s relationship to God depended on how one related to the fellow members of the covenant community. So all prophets will speak of social justice and will champion the cause of orphans, widows, and innocent and marginalized people. Laws meant to give justice to all had failed. They failed to remember that all were members of a covenant made by Yahweh. This was the basis of their equality and every one was to support and depend on each other. Since Israel was a covenantal community the members have the responsibility towards the fellow members of the community. It was the duty of each person to see that no one was oppressed but rather treated with respect and equality as a member of the covenant. Whenever this was not realized the prophets appeared and challenged the people, specially the rich, ruling classes and priests who exploited the poor and innocent people. Covenant was the basis for social justice. It became the foundation of their relationship with one another and Yahweh. It was the source of inspiration to each Prophet in his proclamation of the word of Yahweh and their action plan. In this context we must understand the notion of sin and conversion. Sin is understood in a non-cultic level or societal level. For e.g., in the book of Amos the main areas of sin mentioned are cruelty in war, slavery, violation of treaty and inhumanity etc. Conversion would be a change of heart, a change of attitude, which will foster harmony and good will among all and thus establish relationship with Yahweh. Therefore, lack of concern for one another and oppression is a violation of that covenant and therefore, it is a sin, which is an act against God. Thus prophets speak against the nations, and the people because they follow not God’s ways but their own ways.
A New Covenant
The Hebrew word for covenant is “berit” meaning an agreement. Covenant is an agreement between two parties. Covenant is also sometimes translated as treaty or pact. It is a polyvalent or ambivalent term in the Bible. In some texts covenant means a solemn promise. It can be conditional or unconditional. Conditional will be bilateral and unconditional will be unilateral. When the terms of the first covenant were not honoured by Israelites, Yahweh made a new covenant with his people. Now let us look at the differences between the old and new covenants. Old covenant was a temporary, time-bound and breakable covenant. It was written on stone tablets; so external. It was a conditional, bilateral and material covenant. There was a mediator in the person of Moses. The new covenant is everlasting, so not breakable (…not like the old one,
Jer. 31: 32). Law will be written on hearts; so internal covenant.
People will have direct
experience of God and it will transform their lives and will enable them to live accordingly. It is an unconditional, unilateral and spiritual (experience of God and forgiveness of sins) as well as material (return from exile, rebuilding of temple and material prosperity) covenant. The new covenant is aimed at the total transformation of the person. The new covenant is written in the heart and the implication is that one should also consult his/her conscience. New covenant will consist of a new heart and new spirit. This would mean that we need to have a positive out look of life, a wholistic approach to life, a new way of looking at oneself, others and the world with a new attitude. Now what is the exact nature of the new covenant and what relation does it have with the former one? Although some scholars would see a complete rupture between the two, they are fundamentally the same. Yahweh concluded both on his own initiative; both are God centred; the people are the same in both the instances; the response is manifested in the same obedience to Yahweh, which did not change. There is no question of promulgation of a new law. Therefore this newness is not found in the essentials of the covenant, but in the realm of its realization and of its means. There is a difference between Jeremiah and Ezekiel with regards to the understanding of the new covenant. Jeremiah (31: 31-34) uses the term “my law”, while Ezekiel (36: 25-28) uses “my spirit”. But both of them stress the forgiveness of sins. Jeremiah explicitly, while Ezekiel says “I will clean you from your uncleanliness.” It is God who makes one to keep the covenant.
Prophet like Amos, Jeremiah, Hosea and Isaiah attacked on social justice. Amos prophesied during the period of material prosperity and a period of social and religious corruption. He lashes out sin unflinchingly. He sees the guilt of the nation as arising primarily from their deeds especially failure against justice. (Amos 3: 10, 5: 7, 24; 6: 12). His emphasis is thus on criticism of society. They sell righteousness for silver (Amos 2: 6; cf. 2 Kg. 4: 1). Along with oppression of the poor and luxurious living at the expense of the poor (4: 1) the prophet mentions criminal economic activities like falsification of weight and measures (8: 4ff), the warping of justice in the gate (5: 10, 12, 15) and others (2:6-8, 3:9ff) like that of sexual abuse, obstructing activities of prophets etc. Amos attacked on the international justice too, which is expressed through Amos 1: 6 (slave trade), people sold to Edom (1: 10),Tyre boasting of her security of walls (1: 11), Edom persistent enmity, violating brotherhood. 1:13 – cruelty to women during war; 2: 1 – no respect for dead etc. So he says that Israel will see the day of Yahweh and His judgement for injustices committed (5: 18-20, 9: 1-4).
Whereas Hosea refers to exploitation and oppression when he calls Israel a trader who holds false scales in his hands and who loves to oppress (12: 7).The cynical and insensitive attitude of the rich who amass and hoard ill-gotten wealth is evident from their self righteous talk (12: 8). Jeremiah prophesies when he sees the treacherous accumulation of wealth. He rebukes kings for not protecting justice (21:11ff; 22:3, 13, 15ff). Yahweh’s command to “amend your ways and your doings” (7: 3) would involve establishing social justice that is not oppressing the strangers, the orphans or the widow and not shedding innocent blood (7:5b-6a). As a religious I am called to be an initiator, enabler and provoker providing sufficient motivation for causing the peoples’ awareness to make a just society, as it is filled with imbalances, corruption and tension especially in the field of caste, class, sex, religion etc. My role is to be an active leaven in the place where I work. Conscious of my prophetic mission in my apostolate and by intervening daily in the world’s operation and giving its practical assistance I have to promote fundamental rights of the human person. The areas where I can promote justice are: 1. Educative programme It is first of all the hearts of rich and high caste that should be transformed. Different educative programmes should be launched to educate the masses with a view to make them equip themselves to fight for justice. Conscientize them on the need of being together to fight against the ones who exploit. 2. Active Involvement Formation of groups and organizations with the help of local leaders with political and social concern to deal with questions of policies of government, laws etc. • • • • • When there is a catastrophe (e.g. dowry, death, massacre of low caste/class people, rape, child abuse, bonded labour etc.) instigate the organization/group to fight for justice. Religious with the help of local leaders take initiative especially when the victims of injustice cannot defend oneself/themselves. Lead and involve in the protest morchas if required.
3. The Place of Work The centre is to be opened for all types of people (e.g. admission for low class/caste students, concession for poor patients in hospitals etc.) Give just wages for the employees and workers who contribute their mite daily.
Jeremiah criticizes religious infidelity of the chosen people. He summarizes his message as following: “They went after worthlessness and become worthless” (2: 5). In forsaking Yahweh, people have forsaken their life principle. They sought comfort in sources of their own making (2: 11-13). He puts religious infidelity into language of human infidelity in images of marital infidelity (3: 1-5). The religious infidelity is stressed in recurring themes of apostasy, cultic abuses, disobedience (16: 11; 25: 3-7; 8: 4-9; 9: 13-14; 11: 8-10; 24: 4-5; 35: 16-17). Religious infidelity is seen as self- destruction (7: 6b) As I reflect on this theme, I am challenged to be more loyal and faithful to God, whom I am committed to. I understand the worthlessness of my desire for comfort and pleasures. Seeking the pleasures from environment leads to my destruction.
Religion (Cult, Priesthood)
During the time of Hosea, the Yahwehistic religion of Israel was nationalised. Robbed of its true Spirits, it degenerated into Baalsim and into idolatry (Hos. 2: 16; 8:5-6; 13:2). Yahweh was reduced to one of the Baals, nature, fertility etc. The wide spread cult of prostitution was an essential part of Baalisation and the golden calf at Bethel was the symbol of Israel’s infidelity (Hos. 10: 5). Israel’s apostasy was so complete that Hosea called her an adulteress and whore (Hos. 1:2, 3: 4-5). The consequences of Israel’s infidelity Hosea uttered prediction of destruction against the altars and sanctuaries of Israel (Hos. 8:6; 10:2, 8; 12:11). He attacked the priesthood; they were accused of being the cause of Israel’s infidelity to Yahweh (Hos. 4: 6a, 5: 1). They were no better than robbers, murderers such was their pitiable state (Hos. 6: 9).
God pure holiness, human beings are unclean (Is 6: 5) a conviction which give the prophet a sharp appreciation of sin. Sin is what divides humanity from God. God asks for a religion of heart and Jeremiah declares this to be a condition of Covenant (Jer. 31: 31–34). Prophets attacked all ritual practices not related to moral conduct. He calls them and me for repentance time and again.
Future Salvation (Hope)
Punishment is not, however, God’s last word. He does not want his people to perish utterly. They may repeatedly betray Him but he still does not forsake his promise. It is typical of Hosea that threat ad promise alternate frequently. The tender words of Hosea are reserved to proclaim hope and salvation to a hopelessly faithless people – Israel. A ‘remnant’ will be allowed to survive
(Is. 4: 3c). God loves Israel so intensely (Hos. 11:1) that he regrets his own decision to punish her (Hos. 11: 8-9). God’s tender, selfless love for ungrateful Israel come across powerfully and God’s offer for renewal of the Covenant come through the passages of Hosea 1: 10-11, 2: 1, 14-23, 3: 5, 11: 8-11, 14:2-9. Material prosperity and power donot lie at the heart of prophetic hope, they are only concomitants of the realization of the kingship of God for this the essential hope implies a profoundly spiritual outlook; virtue and holiness (Is. 27: 19-24), a new mode of life and divine forgiveness (Jer. 31: 31-34); true knowledge of God (Is. 2:3, 11:9); peace and joy (Is. 2:4). I realize that each incident that takes place in me and around is an invitation for me to live hopefully. His assurance through his spirit is fashioning a new world in spite of destructive forces of domination and division so noticeable everywhere. I realize I must be a religious of hope to transform the dreams into reality – the dreams on radical change of 'myself' and ‘society’ and be an instrument of hope to others where I serve. I need to have the conscience of being send.
Relevance of Prophets
I remember it being said, Prophet is one who comforts the disturbed and disturbs the comforted. We are called in a special way to comfort the people and build up our human family. In order to achieve this goal we may have to tear down some of the existing unjust structures and those who are enjoying a comfortable life at the cost of the poor and marginalized. We can’t afford to keep silence. Silence would mean we support the evil structures and fostering injustice and oppression. Prophets always spoke out in the name of the Lord when they saw that something inhuman was taking place. They did not hesitate to address either kings, priests or the rich people. They delivered the message without seeing the consequences and were ready to sacrifice their lives to fulfil the mission that was entrusted to them by the Lord. This became possible because they were conscious of their call and they had experienced God in their lives. We need to be men and women of prayer who have the felt experience of God. We need to draw strength and inspiration from this fountain of life and break ourselves in order to give life to others. Jesus has shown us the way by his selfless love and self-sacrifice. The experience of Yahweh led the prophets to proclamation and action. They spoke inspired by God and His works were carried out and not their own. We do lot of works but all is done with the intention of gaining name and fame. God comes last in our so-called charitable works and that’s why when we do not succeed we are disappointed. If we are carrying on the work of the Lord we need not fear anything. He will bring to perfection all that he begins in his own time and way. We bring in our own personal agenda and selfish interests as a result we may not enjoy all that we do and may even fail in our ventures. We as religious and priests first of all need to be close to the Lord and then live this experience in our context.
We need to be aware that our God is a transcendent God and yet the same time immanent, involved in our life. In the final analysis sin and death will be conquered and love and hope will prevail. He wants us to look at the goodness in others and ourselves and get involved deeply in our life situations. We need to develop special concern for the poor, oppressed and marginalized and at the same time not neglecting other people. By being friends to the rich we can conscientize them and help them to be really generous and concerned about other people. Of course this is a tough task. We may have to pay heavy prize and may need to suffer to be effective in our mission. In order to succeed in this endeavour all of us need to undergo transformation. We may speak and visualize so many beautiful things without being affected by the real situation in the world and in our own congregation. First of all, we need to have a new heart and a new spirit. We need to develop by the grace of God new way of looking at reality around us, new attitude towards oneself, others and the world. In our own congregation in the name of God and religion so much of injustice is going on. Sometimes the superiors have their own favourite people to support and give them the best of facilities to thrive in life. During election we may support a particular individual because he belongs to our group. Among religious there are some who have lot of foreign contacts and get sufficient money and these people can’t be touched by anyone. They control the superiors and the situation. Even the workers in our communities are not properly taken care and often under paid. Thus we see the oppression and injustice that is prevalent in our own congregation and communities. We need to speak out and help our own men and women to liberate themselves and thus be free to see the injustice that prevails in the society. Our presence has to be a life giving presence in the modern world. We see these days what is happening in our society; people are living in a culture of fear and death. Most of the time what we do is stifle life. We need to move away from this culture of death to a culture of life where everyone can experience belongingness, security and well being. For Israelites covenant served as a reference point of their relationship with God and one another. They felt they were responsible for the good of the other. So prophets condemned injustice and oppression and helped the people to respect one another and help one another to move towards life. Our relationship with God should help us to work for liberation and bring in a greater concern for life. If we can develop a sense of belonging to the human family and brotherhood we can truly be true witnesses of our God who gave his very life in the person of Jesus Christ to give life in abundance to all. This is our challenge and task in this fast moving, materialistic modern world to bring people back to God who is the source of love and life.
As I was writing this assignment I was tremendously inspired by the lives of Prophets. I realized that Prophet is an ordinary person chosen by God and given the necessary grace and strength to carry on the mission that was entrusted to them. Yahweh was always by their side inspiring and strengthening them. That’s why these ordinary persons could speak to any person and with stand any situation and suffer a lot in order to carry out the responsibility. In order to be an effective religious missionary in the present world I should be conscious of my calling and experience the closeness of my God. This awareness will help me to work selflessly for the good of my brothers and sisters and build up a just society with the co-operation of one another. If this is true I need not worry what to do and what others will think and whether I will succeed in this endeavour. The one who called me will show me the way and I will be faithfully carrying out his mission and not my own. I will be led by him and nourished by him in my self-giving for the good of the human family as he did to his Prophets.
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