Prophetic Person: Mediator

Prophets personify a third quality. They are mediators.  Just as morality and mysticism are linked, so too are mysticism and mediation.  Prophets are apostles, sent by God to tell what they have seen and heard.  Alan Watts noted this decades ago by writing that, far from keeping their encounter with God to themselves, mystics communicate their experience of God. [1]

Brueggemann recognizes this as well, devoting a section in his book, Old Testament Theology  to the theme, “Prophet as Mediator.” [2]  Far from being esoteric and abstract, prophets are mediators who link heaven and earth.. They do this in several key ways.

First, they create “thin places” where what God wills can be compared and contrasted with what is.  Brueggemann calls this the interfacing of tradition and enculturation. [3]  The interface is one of incongruity.  The Kingdom of God (shalom) is at odds with “kingdoms of this world” (empire).  The gap between the two is often wide, but never total. [4]  But whatever the distance, the redemption of people from empire and their return to the peaceable kingdom is a matter of life and death.

Moses, the first and paradigmatic prophet, brought this message to the fore in his final sermon in Deuteronomy, “I have set before you life and death….Choose life!” (34:19).  The interface is that clear, and that radical.  Every prophet after him stands at the same fork in the road and issues the same challenge.

Second, the prophets invite.  We see this in the first point, but it is good to give it attention and emphasis.  In a previous post, we noted that prophets are loving people.  Calling out empire is not motivated by the anger of retribution, but rather by the hope of restoration.  Our fundamental problem is that we are “away from home”–exiled into ways of living that diminish life. [5]  But…there is always a land (a way of life) to which we can return. 

The incongruity of empire is not the final word.  An invitation to congruity–to life–is the final word.  Isaiah captured it, “Ho, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and you who have no money, come, buy, and eat!” (55:1).  Brueggemann describes this as “an invitation to respond with sanity to our special craziness.” [6]  In other words, heeding the prophetic invitation is the smartest thing we will ever do!

Third, the prophets intercede.  We see this in Moses’ repeated intercession on behalf of the people.  He is not questioning God’s knowledge about them, but rather calling God to act graciously toward them.  Moses holds in tension the nature of human sin with the nature of God–hesed–steadfast love.  His intercession is an experience of trust in God’s core nature and confidence that from that nature grace will prevail.

Years ago, Dr. Dennis Kinlaw taught that the basis of intercession is our belief that God takes our lives seriously.  He used the conversation between Abraham and the Lord in Genesis 18 to illustrate this truth.  The text reads, “Abraham remained standing before the Lord” (v 22).  That is the way we would expect it to read; that is, Abraham stood reverently before God.  And that’s what prayer is, right?

Well, of course.  But the amazing thing is that the text has also been translated, “The Lord remained standing before Abraham.”  God stands reverently before us?  Kinlaw said, “Yes!”  And that is the basis of prayer–it is a conversational relationship in which God takes us as seriously as we take God!  [7]  It is that mutual seriousness which enables prayer to be specific, forthright, and even courageous.  In fact, being a mediator only makes sense in the context of a mutually-respectful relationship.  The prophets are mediators who pray this way, and so can we.

Mediators are as needed today as ever. Standing between shalom and empire is the place from which revelation can come and response made.  It is the place which simultaneously calls for repentance (i.e. to look at life in ways that are not imperial) and offers hope that transformation is always possible. [8]

[1]Alan Watts, Behold the Spirit (Vintage Books, 1947/1971),  loc 106.

[2] Walter Brueggemann, Theology of the Old Testament (Fortress Press, 2005 edition), 622-627.

[3] Walter Brueggemann, The Prophetic Imagination, Second Edition, 2.  In this case, ‘tradition’ means Torah before it fell prey to the contamination of misinterpretation and false application at the hands of those who misused it for their ends rather than God’s glory.

[4]  Empire never completely destroys God’s will, as Bureggemann points out.  This is why the call of God through the prophets is the ‘redemption’ of people and systems, not starting over from scratch.  It is why Jesus said he did not come to do away with the Law, but to fulfill it (Matthew 5:17).  We will explore this further when we look at the reconstructive nature of the prophetic task.

[5] This was one of Henri Nouwen’s major emphases, and he wrote about it in his book, The Return of the Prodigal Son (Doubleday, 1992). After he died, friends compiled some of his unpublished writings where he reflected further about our needed return to the Father’s house, and published  the book, Home Tonight: Further Reflections on the Parable of the Prodigal Son (Doubleday, 2009).

[6] Walter Brueggemann, A Way Other Than Our Own (Westminster John Knox, 2017), 16.

[7] Dennis Kinlaw, Prayer , an audio teaching (The Francis Asbury Society, n.d.), Disc 1.

[8] Oneing journal, Vol. 5, No 1 (CAC Publications, 2017) features “Transformation” as its theme.  But long before this, E. Stanley Jones noted that the synonymn for Christianity is ‘transformation.’

About Steve Harper

Dr. Steve Harper is retired seminary professor, who taught for 32 years in the disciplines of Spiritual Formation and Wesley Studies. Author and co-author of 43 books. He is also a retired Elder in The Florida Annual Conference of The United Methodist Church.
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