“The poor tell us who we are. The prophets tell us who we could be.
So we hide the poor and kill the prophets.” wrote the US Prophet Philip Berrigan
Prophetizing is not just a Biblical phenomenon. It also exists in other religions, as in Egypt, Mesopotamia, Mari and Canaan. It exists in all times, including our own. Several kinds of prophets (prophetic communities, visionaries, cult prophets, prophets of the court, etc.) will not be discussed here. The prophets of the First Testament, (also called the Old Testament), such as Hosea, Amos, Micah, Jeremiah and Isaiah, were classics. They were sensitive to the social issues.
To tell the truth, the prophetic spirit has always been present in all phases of Christianity. This is undeniably the case among us, to mention only Brazil, with Dom Helder Camara, Cardinal Dom Paulo Evaristo Arns, Dom Pedro Casaldaliga, and others.
A prophet is an indignant person who struggles for right and justice, especially on behalf of the poor, the weak and widows, against those who exploit the peasants, who falsify weights and measures; and against the luxury of the royal palaces. They sense the call within themselves, interpreted in Biblical code as a divine mission. Amos, who was a simple herdsman, Micah, a small farmer, and Hosea, married to a prostitute, left their daily tasks and went to the backyard of the temple or in front of the royal palace to make their denunciations. But they did not only denounce. They announced catastrophes and then, they announced a new hope, a new and better beginning.
Prophets are mindful of national and international historical events. Micah, for instance, reprimands Nineveh, the capital of the Assyrian empire: “Woe to the bloody city, everything within her is a lie. She is filled with robbery, and does not cease sacking. I will launch filth upon you” (3,1.6). Jeremiah calls Babylon “the metropolis of terror”.
We must understand the premonitions of the prophets correctly. They do not predict catastrophes, as if they had access to a special knowledge. Rather, the meaning is: if the present situation persists, with no change in the exploitation, the practices against the helpless and the absence of a reverent relationship towards Jehovah, something horrible will happen.
Logically, prophets are not pleasing to the powerful, the kings, or even the people. They are called “disrupters of order”, “conspirators against the court and the king”. For that reason, prophets are persecuted, as was Jeremiah, who was tortured and jailed; others were murdered. Very few prophets have died of old age, but no one can make them to shut up.
There clearly are false prophets, those who frequent the courts and are friends with the rich. They announce only pleasing things and even get paid for doing so. There is a true contradiction between false and true prophets. A sign that a prophet is a true one is the courage to risk life and limb for the cause of the humble, and the Earth, one who is always crying for justice and for the right, and tirelessly stands for what is right and just.
Prophets emerge in times of crisis, to denounce illusory projects and to announce a path that brings justice for the humiliated, and that creates a society pleasing to God because the offended and the invisible are well cared for. Justice and right are the bases of lasting peace: that is the central message of the prophets.
We are living now a grave crisis on both a national and world level. Gatherings of scientists and analysts of Earth’s status warn us that if the logic of boundless accumulation continues we will cause a grave ecological-social catastrophe. We are not headed towards global warming. We already are living it. The signs are undeniable.
These voices, even the most authoritative ones, are heard neither by the “decision makers” nor by the men with money. In our country, now submerged in an unprecedented crisis, chaotically ruled by incompetent and even ridiculous persons, we lack prophets who denounce and point to viable paths to get us out of this mess.
The words of Marcio Pochmann are in the prophetic line: “If is maintained the neoliberalism path opened by Temer and now deepened by the ultra-liberalism that dominates the confused government of Bolsonaro, the evolution of Brazil will tend to be like that of Greece, with enterprises failing, and public administration breaking down. The worst is rapidly coming”. Others go even farther: “if socio-political reforms are imposed, according to the logic of the market, merely competitive and not cooperative, Brazil could be transformed into a nation of pariahs”. We need religious and civil prophets, men and women who at least have prophetic attitudes, to denounce that the path underway will be catastrophic.
Isaiah’s words are on point: “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light: they that dwell in the land of the shadow of death, upon them hath the light shone” (9,1-2).
Leonardo BoffEco-Theologian-Philosopher and of the Earthcharter Commission
Free translation from the Spanish sent by
Melina Alfaro, firstname.lastname@example.org.
Done at REFUGIO DEL RIO GRANDE, Texas, EE.UU