We’ve finally reached the end of our series on the Minor Prophets. It seems that the people of Israel reached the end of their rope. After centuries of waiting to regain their status in the region, after watching Assyria, Babylon, and Persia fall, yet failing to become autonomous much less regain control of their Promised Land, the Israelites decide to wait for God to come back around. I wonder if they thought they had done everything they could do.
As I read the prophets, it seems that they had a couple of major critiques. First, there was a problem with cultic practice. It wasn’t in the right place or done by the right people or done the right way. Whenever these issues are raised, for the most part, Israel repents. They consolidate worship to Jerusalem, they rebuild the temple. However, when the problem brought up by the prophets is justice, I don’t see any stories of repentance. For taking bribes and stealing land and selling people into slavery, we do not repent. So when judgment does, in fact, come, when another empire is at the gates, all they have are thoughts and prayers.
When we look at the seemingly intractable problems of our day – racism, sexism, gun violence, climate change; the list goes on and on – there is a hopeless acceptance that sets in. This is just the way it is. Our responses are not that different than the people Israel. Faced with school shootings, we’re willing to build something, to turn our schools into fortresses, but we’re not willing to beat our AR-15s into plowshares. When we look at an impoverished neighborhood, we’ll build a couple of bridges costing nearly a billion dollars, but we won’t enact policies to ensure that the people who have been suffering in that neighborhood for decades can afford to stay and reap the benefits of economic development. Instead, we’ll push those people, mostly people of color, farther south and east, perhaps even to a different city. Then we’ll ask, What more could we have done? Our thoughts and prayers are with them, but little else.
Jesus took up the job of the prophets, pronouncing judgment on the leadership of Israel. But he did more. Rather than wait for the powers to respond, he began a mission of realpolitik, actually meeting the needs of the people who were suffering. He fed them and healed them. He gave them hope, not in some future reward, but in the here and now, organizing together to confront the powers directly. This time, when this prophet spoke to the rulers of his day, he had thousands of people at his back.
The prophets called their representatives, but the representatives had no reason to listen. Just as we can’t rely on the fleeting energy of the protest, we can’t rely on electoral politics to make change. When we call our representatives, they have to understand that an engaged electorate is more powerful than money. The electorate becomes engaged when their needs are met. We can move from the prophetic moment to the Jesus Movement, a movement that seeks justice and peace for everyone, if we endeavor to meet the needs of the people who are suffering.
I think the people of Church in the Cliff are uniquely suited to do this – though we are certainly not unique and not alone. When the people of Israel chose to build a building instead of create justice, it was because they forgot who they were. They were slaves once. They were strangers. The memory of that faded. Most people at Church in the Cliff have the experience of being marginalized in some way, even if only in standing with those who were. That memory is fresh. For many of us, our hearts are still broken. Let us endeavor to keep those hearts open with compassion and not hardened by bitterness. The opportunities to speak prophetically will never cease, but more is required from those who remember. Like Jesus, we may not eat from the garden we plant, but someone will, someone who is now as we once were.