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Abraham Heschel and Jesus the Prophet

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In one of my classes on Methodism, it was stressed that Wesley encouraged his preachers to proclaim Christ “in all his offices” –  prophet, priest, and king. In other words, the substitutionary act of Christ as the mediator of sin – a priestly act – should not override his prophetic and kingly ministries.  Christ ought to be viewed more fully in the multiple roles that he inhabited, regardless of theological proclivities.

I’m currently working my way through a sermon series on Jeremiah (going – mostly – with the lectionary).  As part of my preparation, I’m rereading Abraham J. Heschel’s classic tome The Prophets, or at least the parts that deal with the personalty of the Hebrew prophets and with Jeremiah particularly.  In doing so, I was struck by the ways in which Jeremiah’s rejection as a prophet is echoed later in Jesus’ ministry.

Jeremiah, of course, was branded a traitor by his own people for suggesting that Judah should submit to Babylonian rule.  You may remember that Jesus said, “Truly I tell you, no prophet is accepted in the prophet’s home town.” (Luke 4:24)

In his chapter on the prophet from Anathoth, Heschel argues,

He who loved his people, whose life was dedicated to saving his people, was regarded as an enemy…What protection was there against such backbiting?  No one could look into his heart, but everybody was hurt by his words.  Only the Lord knew the truth. (The Prophets [San Francisco: Perennial Classics 2001], 157)

He goes on to quote from Jeremiah 17, including

I have not pressed Thee to send evil, nor have I desired the day of disaster, Thou knowest; that which came out of my lips was before thy face.

Heschel’s work is an absolute must-read on these fascinating individuals, whose office was both great and terrible.  Among many other gifts, the Jewish Theological Seminary professor has reminded me of just how strong Jesus’ ties to the Hebrew prophets were – and remain.

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Tea with Bunyan: A Pilgrim’s Life

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Over my hot tea this evening, I found myself flipping back through a  well-worn copy of The Pilgrim’s Progress.  This is simply one of the greats in the Christian (and otherwise!) literary canon.  Yes, the language is difficult, but it is entirely worth the effort.  As much as I enjoyed The Shack, Eugene Peterson’s endorsement was a bit too strong: it does not compare to Bunyan’s masterpiece.

Consider this jewel, with All Saint’s Day coming up:

Good Christian, come a little way with me, and I will teach thee about the way thou must go.  Look before thee; dost thou see this narrow way?  That is the way thou must go.  It was cast up by the patriarchs, prophets, Christ, and his apostles, and it is as straight as a rule can make it.  This is the way thou must go.

Magnificent.  These were the words with which Good Will (*not* Hunting) sent Christian on his journey to the Celestial City.  Ours is the age of “Yes we can!” and “Do not follow where the path may lead…” and “Follow your heart.”  Does anyone else hear Penn and (not so much) Teller yelling, “BULLSHIT”?  In this age of revenge against all norms, traditions, and paths, Bunyan reminds us that the path God calls us to is not one of our choosing.  We are called to a path we do not find on our own; we are defined by a story of which we are not the author.  We are not “the captains of our soul,” we are simply run down by the Hound of Heaven, captured by Amazing Grace.

And in an age where we perpetually confuse wants with needs, and have lost the practices necessary to sustain even a modicum of Christian self-discipline, Bunyan’s Christian reminds us,

I walk by the rule of my master, you walk by the rude working of your fancies.  You are counted theives already by the Lord of the way, therefore I doubt you will not be found true men at the end of the way.  You come in by yourselves without his direction, and shall go out by yourselves without his mercy.

A little harsh, perhaps.  But all-in-all, good medicine for mainline Christians who, in despising their evangelical brothers and sisters, have lost all concept of discipline and the consequences attendant to its failure.  If you’ve not read Bunyan, put down your John Shelby Spong or John Piper or Joel Osteen – please, for the love of God – pick up The Pilgrim’s Progress.  Bunyan’s allegory will, I can promise, guide your own pilgrimage toward the heart of God.

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