The claim of Jesus that everyone in His midst were and are his brothers and sisters is a statement that can be taken as one of the most potentially explosive in the gospels.
Eugene Hansel, a Benedictine monk, during our last retreat laid out one example after another as to how the plea to treat each other as brothers and sisters threatened the core positions that were held fast by those who wanted to hold onto status, privilege, wealth and power.
Jesus stands in a long line of prophets who were killed because they called for the human heart to embrace everyone as not only neighbor but brother or sister. If prophets cannot be silenced through social pressure, it has always been more expedient to kill them.
The message of Martin Luther King made millions burn with the hope of a new day. It also made many recoil with horror that fused into hatred. The photographs taken in American cities in the 1960s of Civil Rights violence are a reminder of what we can do to each other when we live from hatred and not love.
A common interpretation of prophetic activity understands a prophet as one who can see into the future, mesmerizing those who believe in him or her with dates and events yet to come. Nostradamus is a long-revered man whose prophecies still captivate the imaginations and hunger of people who want to know what lies down the as-yet-darkened roads of history.
But his alleged talent does not quite square with the biblical notion of the prophetic. A true prophet indeed reads the signs and portents of the times and his or her sights are focused on injustice and its consequences.
Greed, arrogance, blindness and brutality sow seeds of further destruction, further unrest, lingering discontent. A prophet indicts those who abuse power at the expense of the poor and disadvantaged.
The message, leveled at those in control, is never received well. The message and the messenger are scoffed at, banished to the fringes of the "normal," silenced with death. It is no secret that the prophets from all times and all places suffered death for their declaration of the all too obviously truthful.
The truth is radically upsetting in its call to reform one's ways.
Being a Christian is an uphill battle. Once you awaken to the truth of the gospel, it is an invitation to walk hand-in-hand with all kinds of people. It is a walk that involves risks, unsure paths, the leaving behind of a lot of comforting but isolating biases and prejudices.
But the walk is the only way to go -- the only way we can find each other, know each other, and save each other. There is no guarantee that all will turn out well or even neat. That may be what we hope for, but the walk is not ours to finish.
Where are today's prophets? They are around and they are plentiful. They are the ones whose vision and words embrace all people and whose agenda will settle for nothing less than equal and fair justice for all. They rise as God's gift to us. They are living proof that God is with us, that God will not abandon us to our narrowness of vision and its consequences.
A prophet invites us to see what is really possible, and infuses our hearts with the strength and endurance to follow our dreams, to truly hear what is essential to human life and live accordingly.
It is a long but promising road that stretches ahead.
As Pete Seeger once sang, "keep your eyes on the prize, walk toward God with each other, and learn as we go along that path of truth."
Father James Stephen (Jeff) Behrens, O.C.S.O., serves at the Monastery of the Holy Spirit, 2625 Ga. Highway 212 S.W., Conyers. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.