One of my colleagues gave me a friendly challenge after reading my initial thoughts about the differences between prophets and slanderers. While he agreed with my starter list on the differences, he asked about how I would respond to Jesus’ accusatory responses to the Pharisees. As prophet, Jesus called the teachers “white-washed tombs…a den of vipers”. My colleague could have gone further and added things the OT prophets said to Israel and Judah. Isn’t there a place for modern day prophets to be very firm and clear in their convictions, even insulting? Can’t they call a spade a spade?
So, after thinking about this, here are some of my reactions:
1. Jesus certainly had the capacity to see what was in hearts of the pharisees. We do not. Therefore, we must be slower and more tentative in our pronouncements about others. We need to be listeners first. We need to be slow to speak, quick to listen.
2. Our pronouncements need to be more directed to specific behaviors than to character assessment. This does not mean we don’t evaluate character traits, but that we ought to be more inclined to point out the problems we see in certain behaviors than we are to make judgments on the motives behind the behaviors (since we cannot see the heart).
3. Jesus aims his most severe judgments at religious leaders. These folks were the keepers of truth and “pure” religion. Jesus also wept over them so we must also show compassion when we speak prophetically about things/people with whom we do not agree. Question: Do we show compassion to those we aim our most severe judgments? Do we do this prophetic work with love?
4. Prophets preaching the gospel will be an offense and scandal because the gospel is an offense. However, it is far too easy to offend because of our pride and to confuse that with gospel offense.
5. Prophets should remember to turn their critical eye first to themselves. Jeremiah, in Lamentations, embodies Jesus’ words to first take the log out of his own eye. He grieves over his sin and the sin of his people before asking God to crush their enemies. When we prophecy, we should do so first to self and our own kind.
6. Jesus seems to have a different response to mere sinners. John 4 gives an example of Jesus’ interactions with the woman at the well (who appears to be on the defensive). He speaks prophetically and doesn’t allow her to bait him into a pointless debate on place of worship. Instead he plays with her a bit and draws her into another way of thinking and seeing herself.