The summer before I went to seminary I had a dream about my long dead, religious Grandmother. Having walked down the hall she stopped and stood behind me in my bedroom doorway. I saw her because I was sitting in front of an antique vanity mirror. If anyone was going to be proud of my acceptance into Princeton Seminary it would be she. I smiled broadly and announced that I was going to be a minister. She replied, “Well, if the way you treat your Grandfather is any indication of the kind of minister you’ll make you won’t be very good.”
Having spent all of my teenage years in a small house with my Grandfather I can’t even guess how many times I waged World War Three with him at the dinner table, stomped away and slammed the door. Don’t think the symbolism of the “vanity mirror” was lost on me either. Nothing like your pious, doting Grandmother coming back from the dead to hand you the truth.
God doted on Abraham and his children, so much so that he promised that all nations of the earth will be blessed because of them (Genesis 22:18) and some day every king will bow before them (Ezekiel 5:5). This kind of pedigree would go to anyone’s head and it did. The books of the Bible record that while Israel never forgot its specialness it routinely forgot its vocation. Every time this kind of national amnesia set in, God sent a prophet.
When Israel was in exile she cried out about her cruel oppression and cursed her enemies. Then the prophet Zachariah showed up. Unasked for his opinion, Zachariah invited himself over, pulled up a chair and reminded Israel about all the ways back at home she’d been willfully deaf to God’s orders not to “…. oppress the widow, the orphan, the alien, or the poor;”. (Zachariah 7:10). Israel had put her energy into gazing at herself in the mirror instead of living a holy life, Zachariah said. It was God, not Babylon, who kicked her out of the Holy Land.
The prophet Malachi was just as much fun at a party. He warned Israel not to pray too hard for God’s reign on earth because on day one of God’s administration, before God even unpacks His pencils, He’ll put Israel on trial and act as the judge and prosecuting attorney against it for not paying laborers their fair wage, for oppressing widows and the fatherless, and depriving foreigners of justice. (Malachi 3:5)
Want corroboration about this from the Gospels? If, like me, you think you were called by God , enjoy trying on fancy chasubles to impress your flock on Sunday morning, and ever wear even a hint of a smug smile when you do, Jesus goes all Old Testament prophet and says things like “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of the bones of the dead and everything unclean.” (Matthew 23:27)
Like us no doubt, our Biblical forbearers would have preferred to have prophets who placed the blame for what’s wrong with the world on the shoulders of their enemies. I’m sure prophets who say, “Hey Sunshine! Go out there today and just remember: your enemies are God’s enemies.” would get invitations to Christmas parties instead of running for their lives and hiding out in the desert. The thing is, prophets like that are called “yes men”, not prophets.
A source of pride for many, “In God we trust” is the motto of America. But the God of the Old and New Testament is more like a parent than a brand and like good parents I’ve known, expects the most from His own. Also, the God we as a nation pledge to be “under” at City Hall meetings and football games doesn’t offer much in the way of loopholes when it comes to caring for the poor, welcoming the stranger and forgiving as we have been forgiven.
If Hosea or Amos came up behind our country sitting in front of a vanity mirror what would they say?
Your sister in Christ,