“A prophet's true greatness is his ability to hold God and (humanity) in a single thought.”
― Abraham Joshua Heschel; The Prophets
The prophets are full of scathing rebuke and words of judgement, with a scattering of oracles of comfort and hope. It is one of the reasons historically, preachers “cherry pick” selective passages from them. I am not saying that everything in each prophet is equally applicable to our situation, but we should always be suspicious of ourselves and others who by purpose or neglect avoid “inconvenient” exhortations. As the great Abraham Heschel observed, “The prophet knew that religion could distort what the Lord demanded of humans, that priests themselves had committed perjury by bearing false witness, condoning violence, tolerating hatred, calling for ceremonies instead of bursting forth with wrath and indignation at cruelty, deceit, idolatry, and violence.”
A famous social psychologist relates a story of how while he was distracted reading the newspaper during a TV news broadcast reporting a story from the Viet Nam war, his six-year-old daughter asked him what napalm was. He in a matter-of-fact way described both its purpose and effect. He lowered his paper to see his daughter quietly weeping. He was struck to the core at how desensitized and causal he had become to such a horrific weapon.
God periodically would raise up prophets to warn and wake up the complacent. Heschel explains, “Indeed, the sort of crimes and even the amount of delinquency that fill the prophets of Israel with dismay do not go beyond that which we regard as normal, as typical ingredients of social dynamics. To us a single act of injustice--cheating in business, exploitation of the poor--is slight; to the prophets, a disaster. To us injustice is injurious to the welfare of the people; to the prophets it is a deathblow to existence: to us, an episode; to them, a catastrophe, a threat to the world.”
This summer, we will walk with the “minor” prophets found in the latter part of the Hebrew Scriptures. They are minor in length not in message. We begin this week with Amos and my hope and prayer is that not only will God “let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream” (Amos 5:24) in our society and world, but that we are open for it to live deeper in our individual and collective lives.