People of all races who yearn for social justice can resonate with the deep anger and grief expressed by Rev. Wright. He is a modern day prophet, in the tradition of Elijah, Isaiah, Hosea, Amos, Jeremiah, and Micah in the Old Testament; and in the tradition of Jesus of Nazareth. Those prophets proclaimed that God intends for us all to use whatever power we possess to serve the good of our neighbor. To answer the question of God put to Cain, "Yes, you are your brother's keeper."
Jesus made this clear in Matthew 25, a chapter headed, "The Judgment of the Nations." According to Jesus, those who wish to worship God do so by feeding the hungry, providing water to the thirsty, welcoming the stranger, clothing the naked, caring for the sick, and visiting the imprisoned.
The Old Testament prophets were much more direct and angry in their judgments on a nation that ignored the needs of the poor and oppressed.
Listen to selected verses from Isaiah Chapter 1: "Ah, sinful nation, people laden with iniquity, offspring who do evil, children who deal corruptly, who have forsaken the Lord, . . . cease to do evil, learn to do good; seek justice, rescue the oppressed, defend the orphan, plead for the widow."
Many people may disagree with the political views expressed by Jeremiah Wright or how his views may or may not have influenced the life and political career of Senator Barack Obama, but one thing is certain: Jeremiah Wright’s sermons and ministry have many similarities with the words and ministry of the prophets of the Old Testament.
Many of the prophets of the Old Testament criticized the leaders of the nation because of the way the ruling classes treated the average Israelite. The preaching of Elijah, Elisha, Amos, Micah, Jeremiah, and many of the other prophets was marked by constant confrontation with the powerful men and women who were part of the dominant society. These prophets also preached that every citizen in Israel, rich or poor, had rights given to them by God, rights which the government could not abrogate.
The ministry of Elisha is a classical example of a prophetic denunciation of the political powers in the Northern Kingdom. The story of Elisha in 2 Kings 9 tells how the prophet inspired a revolt against the king. Elisha commanded his servant to anoint Jehu, the commander of the Israelite army, with the intent of deposing King Joram, the son of Ahab and Jezebel, who had adopted the evil policies of his father. The overthrow of Joram was accomplished by a peasant rebellion in which the people of the land overthrew the government in order to establish another government that would be more faithful to the ideals of the covenant and more sensitive to the needs of the poor.
Another prophet who spoke against the evil practices of his society was Micah who preached during the reigns of Jotham (742-735 B.C.), Ahaz (735-715 B.C.), and Hezekiah (715-686 B.C.), kings of Judah. Micah was a rural prophet who spoke on behalf of the common people of Judah. His preaching was focused on the suffering of his fellow citizens. Micah spoke against the plundering of the poor, the oppressing of the defenseless, against the perversion of justice through bribery and dishonest business practices, against violence and bloodshed.
Micah recognized that the leaders of the nation were responsible for providing social justice for all people. But he also recognized that the execution of justice for all would take place when the relationship between leaders and people were ordered according to God’s divine norm. Micah said: “But God has already made it plain how to live, what to do, and what he is looking for in men and women. It’s quite simple: Do what is fair and just to your neighbor, be compassionate and loyal in your love, and live in humble fellowship with your God” (Micah 6:8).
One does not have to agree with Jeremiah Wright’s political views, but there is no doubt that the man is exercising a prophetic ministry. Speaking from a black perspective, he speaks clearly about social issues such as poverty, injustice, the suppression of human rights, crime, and acts of violence. These are the issues that are prone to produce conflicting views and create tension among people who take different positions of these issues.
I believe more ministers today should embrace the call to prophetic ministry. Prophetic ministry is as appropriate today as it was during the days of the prophets of the Old Testament, especially considering the condition of the world in which we live. Why do we need prophets today? Because many of the social problems that existed in the days of the prophets of old are present in our society today.
God said: “In the last days I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy. Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days, and they will prophesy” (Acts 2:17-18).
The day for prophetic ministry has arrived.
Professor of Old Testament
Northern Baptist Seminary
Tags: Barack Obama, Jeremiah Wright, Prophetic Ministry, Prophets