Posted by: Dan | April 23, 2006

Jesus as "Prophet": Part V

Two Pastoral Reflections on Jesus as Prophet: Arias and Brueggemann

This paper has largely focused upon scholarly approaches that examine the historical Jesus as an apocalyptic, a social, and a charismatic prophet. Before concluding and tying together what can be learned from this broad range of scholarship it is worth examining two reflections on Jesus' relevance for our understanding of the prophetic that have been written from a more pastoral perspective — although the men writing, Mortimer Arias and Walter Brueggemann, are scholars in their own right.

Mortimer Arias: Prophetic Annunciation, Denunciation, Witness, and Consolation

Mortimer Arias, in his study of the prophetic rooted in Jesus' proclamation of the reign of God, approaches the prophetic from four angles. Arias argues that hope is the central motif of the prophet, and the motive for the prophet's mission. And hope is thoroughly eschatological for it means living with a future-orientation that makes living in the present meaningful. Thus, Christians who follow Jesus and prophetically announce the kingdom of God as hope, announce “a future which every present takes meaning from, and in which every past is redeemed”. This proclamation of hope also means denouncing any power, program, or purpose that opposes God's plan, and so the prophet, like Jesus, must maintain a critical distance from any political order, while simultaneously engaging with society. In this regard, it is essential that the prophet speak against specific structures, for silence or vague talk negates hope. Arias also emphasises that prophets who witness in this manner will face suffering, persecution, and misunderstanding, and, therefore, will truly become witnesses to hope in the fullest sense of the word — they, like Jesus and the prophets before him, will be martyrion. Finally, as witnesses to hope, prophets will follow Jesus and engage in a ministry of consolation to the broken-hearted and the oppressed. Thus, prophets of hope must combine annunciation, denunciation, suffering and consolation, and each of these elements should not be separated from any of the others.

Walter Brueggemann: Prophetic Pathos and Energising

Walter Brueggemann further fills out the study of Jesus as social prophet by emphasising two elements: prophetic pathos and prophetic energising. Brueggemann begins by closely following scholarship that links Jesus to the social prophetic stream, and he argues that Jesus engaged in the ultimate criticism of the powers and “the royal consciousness”. Jesus, according to Brueggemann, dismantles the dominant culture and nullifies its claims through his solidarity, and shared vulnerability, with the marginalised. By proclaiming forgiveness, Jesus threatened religious sanctions that functioned as social controls; by healing, especially on the Sabbath, Jesus placed freedom from rejection over the social order; and by eating with outcasts, Jesus embodied a critique of the heart of the temple's purity structure. In all of these acts Jesus juxtaposes prophetic grief with royal rage, and thus Jesus is moved primarily by compassion and pathos. As Brueggemann writes: “Compassion constitutes a radical form of criticism, for it announces that the hurt is to be taken seriously, that the hurt cannot be accepted as normal and natural but as an abnormal and unacceptable condition for humanness”. Jesus replaces royal numbness with prophetic suffering love, and this is what truly triggers a social revolt, for empires can tolerate charity and good intentions but not solidarity with pain and grief. By internalising the pain of the marginalised, Jesus and the prophets before him bring to expression all that the royal culture has tried to repress or deny. And this prophetic pathos culminates with Jesus' death on the cross, which announces the end of a culture of death by taking on death and provides the ultimate assurance that prophetic criticisms must be done not by outsiders but by those who intimately know the pain of the marginalised. However, the prophetic does not stop with pathos but it engages in a radical energising premised upon the resurrection and the in-breaking of new life where none was expected. The resurrection is the ultimate energising for the new future. Therefore, the prophetic counteracts numbness through grief, and despair through a new future. The prophetic ministry evokes alternative communities and operates by “offering an alternative perception of reality and in letting people see their own history in light of God's freedom and his will for justice”.

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