God communicated to humankind, especially to his chosen people, through prophets. Noah and Abraham are first in the list of those who received divine revelations. Moses was one to whom God talked like a friend. The place he occupies among prophets is summed up in the following words; ‘Never since has there arisen a prophet in Israel like Moses, whom the Lord knew face to face’ (Deut 34:10)
The line of prophets saw the likes of Samuel, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Daniel and ended with John the Baptist. With the birth of Jesus, prophecies started to fulfill and the fullness of divine revelation was given through the Son of God.
It doesn’t mean that the chain of prophets is broken forever. But there is a marked difference in that the prophets of the New Testament era drew their prophetic power from the written Word. There are prophets today also. They minister among us. Like John the Baptist they call us to repentance. Like Jeremiah, They warn us about the impending chastisement. Like Daniel, they teach us to stay with God during adversities and even in exile. Like Isaiah they remind us of God’s wrath lest we may stray again.
Elijah calls out from the wilderness to bring back God’s people back to Him. Elisha follows with miracles and wondrous signs. Samuel shows us the way to the Anointed One. Hosea never gets tired of telling about the infidelity of the chosen people and Joel reminds us that infidelity brings punishment. Malachi heralds the dawn of Lord’s day.
But the sad part is that the number of those who listened to their prophecies were few. A Prophet is a sentinel. He is appointed to guard the people and to warn them when the enemy approaches. Warning the people about the coming sword is, Like Ezekiel, the primary duty of a prophet. ‘So you mortal, I have made a sentinel for the house of Israel; whenever you hear a word from my mouth, you shall give them warning from me. If I say to the wicked, “O wicked ones, you shall surely die,” and you do not speak to warn the wicked to turn from their ways; the wicked shall die in their iniquity, but their blood I will require at your hand. But if you warn the wicked to turn from their ways, and they do not turn from their ways, the wicked shall die in their iniquity, but you will have saved your life’ (Eze. 33:7-9).
A Prophet’s mandate is simple as is the warning from God that the prophet will be accountable for not carrying out the mission assigned to him. This is why prophets proclaimed the words of God to a rebellious nation often risking their own life. Once a prophet gets an inspiration to speak out, he cannot contain that divine urge. Jeremiah writes about this dilemma. ‘My anguish, my anguish! I writhe in pain! Oh, the walls of my heart! My heart is beating wildly; I cannot keep silent; for I hear the sound of the trumpet, the alarm of war’ (Jer 4:19). A prophet cannot remain silent!
Jeremiah writes again; ‘My joy is gone, grief is upon me, my heart is sick’ (Jer 8:18). Proclaiming the words of God was an ordeal to Jeremiah. He laments; ‘For the word of the Lord has become for me a reproach and derision all day long’ (Jer 20:8). For a moment, he thinks about ignoring his call to prophecy, but it becomes more and more impossible for him to ignore it. ‘ If I say, “I will not mention him, or speak any more in his name,” then within me there is something like a burning fire shut up in my bones; I am weary with holding it in, and I cannot’ (Jer 20:9).
It is about prophets. But we are on the side. We are called to listen to the words of prophets. So when we hear something from a prophet, pray for the discernment to understand its meaning. Pray for the grace to appreciate the words of God communicated through them. But first of all, we should accept them as prophets. Had the Israelites accepted Jeremiah as a true prophet, they would have listened to his words. If they were blessed with the discernment to know that they were going towards a period of suffering and exile, they could have made amends to their life. Unfortunately the chosen people failed to appreciate the words of Jeremiah as coming from God; and they paid for it dearly.
Jeremiah is gone and exile is over. But we are here to listen to the voice of the prophets of our times who call out in the wilderness of a corrupt and contaminated world to repent and return to Jesus Christ, our only Savior. The pertinent question is, whether we really distinguish the voice of true prophets amid the cacophony of ever increasing false teachings that dominates the world today.
Let us pray for the grace to accept a prophet as a prophet, because our Lord has promised that ‘ whoever welcomes a prophet in the name of a prophet will receive a prophet’s reward’ (Mt 10:41). A prophet’s share is a cup full of suffering. They accept it for the benefit of us mortals so that we are warned in advance.