Sunday 19 November
Year A: 3th Sunday before Advent
Liturgical Colour: Red or Green
- Zephaniah 1: 7, 12-18
- Psalm 90:1-8, (9-11), 12
- 1 Thessalonians 5:1-11
- Matthew 25:14-30
The Old Testament reading this week is taken from the three-chapter book of the prophet Zephaniah. Prophets appear in many cultures and religions throughout history. They are regarded as men and women who have been appointed (not invited – they are often very reluctant!) to deliver messages and insights from divine beings.
These messages are sometimes harsh, especially in the Old Testament. Jews today accept thirty-nine books as Tanakh (scripture), although some of these are recorded on a single scroll. These are divided into the Torah (law), Nevi’im (prophets) and Ketuvim (writings). The Prophets comprise two books placed sided by side in the Hebrew Bible. The first are the Former Prophets and the second the Latter Prophets together with the Book of Twelve Prophets, which includes Zephaniah. They came to be regarded as canon in around 200BC, and were included in the Greek translation of the Old Testament, called the Septuagint, which was prepared sometime between then and 100BC
Prophets usually appeared whenever the people of Israel had drifted away from obedience to God and towards idol worship, immorality, complacency or a whole host of other failings. Sometimes the problem involved a twisting or reversal of priorities. For example, regarding sacrifices, which were intended to make provision for lapses into disobedience. However, there are times in the Old Testament when they became ritualistic substitutes for true obedience.
Zephaniah prophesised in King Josiah’s reign (640-609BC) His stern words may have precipitated the great programme of reform begun by Josiah following the discovery (or rather re-discovery) of the law-book in the temple.
Prophets call people back to God and God’s way.
The word prophet is translated from the Hebrew word ‘navi’ meaning to proclaim, mention, call and/or summon. Prophet is also the word used to translate the Hebrew ‘hoze’ and ‘ro’e’ meaning seer. These all have slightly different meanings. Call and proclamation imply direct messaging from God. Seer infers someone who can see deeper in to the heart of particular issues than those around them, perhaps identifying and calling out root causes or motivations beyond symptoms or presenting behaviour. Alternatively, a prophet may also be someone who is able to foretell the eventual outcome of trajectories of current patterns and warn against them. Finally, there is the word ‘nevi’a, meaning prophetess. The bible identifies 55 prophets, 7 of which are women.
Prophets in the bible come in all shapes and sizes. Some, like John the Baptist, tried to sit critically apart from society but ended up in the midst of it. Others, like Anna, were practically hermits. Some, like Miriam, danced and sang. Others, like Jonah, tried to run away.
I guess perceptive critical questions and reminders about how far our behaviour might have strayed from God’s intention, or perhaps worse has twisted God’s instruction and subverted it, are never going to be welcome. We are all very attached to our existing patterns of behaviour and ways of thinking (individually) and traditions and doctrine (collectively) and questioning it is very uncomfortable.
There were false prophets of course, but that didn’t justify not bothering to discern and listen to those who were of God.
Who are the people ‘not like us’ that we call ‘colourful’ but mean ‘annoying’? Who disturbs us when we are feeling complacent? Who always speaks out at PCC meetings and makes a fuss? Who do we try to ignore? They might just be annoying of course, but perhaps they might be a prophet…
photo above taken from loandbeholdbible.com