There was a cartoon in the New Yorker a while back, two evidently well-to-do ladies walking down a splendid N.Y. sidewalk, and one of them is saying to the other: “I’m doing so much better, now that I’ve gone back to living in denial!”There is the popular saying of AA: “Denial isn’t just a river in Egypt!” T.S. Eliot noted more soberly: “Humankind cannot bear too much reality.”
The prophets of the Old Testament constitute a major current and heritage of the Scriptures, at least as important as the kings and the priestly currents. Amos, Hosea, Isaiah, Jeremiah, and others, giant figures that challenge us even today, resonating in the voices of recent prophetic men and women. And of course the prophetic charism is not primarily about foreseeing the future, but rather about uttering a judgment on the present that cuts through collective denials, often institutionalized and defended by people in power, and thus opening the possibility of a very different future. But because they threaten the injustices of the status quo, prophets have been and are regularly threatened, even put to death.
Christ is for us Christians the fulfillment of the prophets’ words, and also of the prophetic vocation. He is for us The Prophet, as he is The Messiah, The Lord, The Friend, The Spouse. And so he was denied, and put to death. But then he prophetically rose from the dead!
And during his eathly life he prophetically called into question the central absoluteness of the Temple, prophesying that one stone would not remain on another. He criticised the heavy regulations tied to the Sabbath, insisting that the Sabbath is for humans, not humans for the Sabbath. He questioned the food and fasting regulations, stating that it is not what goes into the mouth that condemns a person, but what comes out. He turned upside down the various social hierarchies of the time (and of every time), teaching that often the last will be first and the first will be last. He confounded the idea of holiness of the self righteous Pharisees and high priests, insisting that his mission was (and is)to the sinners, not the “just”.
His word is revolutionary even today. He stated as the Second Great Commandment: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” He took that from the Old Testament books of Leviticus and Deuteronomy, but there “neighbor” was specified as a fellow Israelite, or at most a “resident alien.” But Jesus radically expanded that by the Parable of the Good Samaritan, in which “neighbor” comes to include any human being, especially anyone in need. Jesus radically insists early on that we are even to love our enemies, a radical, prophetic exhortation even today. If followed just a bit, it could change things dramatically, in the Holy Land, in the larger Middle East and Africa, indeed everywhere, including our own U.S. borders, cities and towns.