|Frieze of Prophets, East Wall. John Singer Sargent (1856-1925)|
Boston Public Library.
Depicts Micah, Haggai, Malachi and Zechariah
For several weeks, I've had this passage from First Kings reverberating within me:
Acting on the word of the Lord, one of the guild prophets said to his companion, "Strike me." But he refused to strike him. Then he said to him, "Since you did not obey the voice of the Lord, a lion will attack you when you leave me." When he left him, a lion came and attacked him. Then the prophet met another man and said, "Strike me." The man struck him a blow and wounded him. The prophet went on and waited for the king on the road...It goes on to say that the prophet who was struck essentially needed to appear before the king he was to meet in a wounded fashion in order for his message to be complete.
1 Kings 20:35-38
The wisdom to draw from this passage pertains to the prophetic dimension of Christian life, what it looks like, and how we are formed in it.
Step one is always God's word coming first. Prophets don't act prophetically because they come up with a creative idea that they want to try out on someone. They act prophetically in response to the word of the Lord. Perceiving the word of the Lord has to be by faith, so there is this element of being willing to make mistakes and to look like a fool. Prophets need to be able to take themselves lightly.
Prophets' sense of personal belonging within a group of other prophets is a tricky thing. When someone shares in your mission and you both get the delight that this brings, it can be a temptation to get attached to being in the other person's good graces, or honoring them in a way that builds monuments to them in your mind that God has not commissioned. Keeping your distance physically, mentally, emotionally or spiritually isn't a viable option, either, if the community of prophets is to thrive. Therefore, clear speaking of one's mind is in order, so that everyone's mind may be brought continually into the light, purged and purified is necessary. It is also necessary that everyone remained fixed beyond themselves to the One whom they serve, which is the Word of God.
The prophet who refused to strike the other prophet probably thought, "Oh, good Abba, I could never raise my hand in violence against one who has taught me so much of the Lord." And the good Abba probably thought, "Oh, crap. He really hasn't learned much yet, has he." The lion refocused the second prophet's attention on what was ultimate: obey the Word of the Lord, regardless of even feeling you are wrong, or making life hard for someone else. Detachment is needed here. If you really so greatly and legitimately honor that prophet you don't want to hit, it will be because of God -- you know he hears accurately from God and walks in His way. But if you believed this, you wouldn't refuse when the demands went against your grain. Therefore, you aren't refusing to strike him because of how holy he is or how holy you are; you are refusing to obey because you are rebellious and full of yourself.
But that prophet did teach the rest of the community a lesson, and so he served them well, after all. (Sometimes we succeed most in teaching others because of, not in spite of, our failures.) The Lord, He is God. They all knew, or were learning, what it was to experience the word of the Lord coming to them. God's supernatural presence is real. They were learning to walk in relationship with His power and become transformed into partners with Him.
Don't you think that the prophet who requested to be struck and the prophet who struck him formed a bond over this experience? Both were valuing the Word that had come among them more than their own comfort. Together, they advanced God's mission. The wounds were temporary; the bond lasted their lives. The first prophet knew he was no lone ranger; he could not wound his own face. He needed this offensive ministry from his brother prophet.