Sermon based on the book of the Prophet Micah
How much time do we need to spend with someone to be able to say that we know them, that we know who they are?
The Gospels tell us how: after having spent much time together, Jesus asked his closest friends what image the people had of him. His companions responded with certainty. They say to Jesus that he is seen as a prophet. They mention that the people have identified him with famous characters among God's people, like Elijah, Jeremiah and even the recently murdered John the Baptist.
But why did the Jews have this conviction? What did they see in Jesus that made them identify him as a prophet? In the story of God's people, there were always people that, without officially calling themselves prophets, were identified as such in the Scriptures. Among them is Moses, the liberator of God's people, and also Deborah, the judge who is named in the Scriptures as a "nabi". (In Hebrew "nabi" means "the mouth of God", that is to say the one who speaks for Him, his prophet).
But it wasn't until between the 8th and 6th centuries BC that this prophetic work reached an unexpected peak, to such an extent that the kingdoms of the North and South begin to train their own "professional prophets" that lived in the court and enjoyed its privileges. However, the prophets considered most popular and beloved by the people – except in an exceptional case like that of Isaiah – continued to be those prophets that were raised up "non-officially"; meaning that it is those without prophetic training in the royal court that are called by God to speak and denounce unjust situations suffered by the most vulnerable Jews. It is during this period of nearly two centuries, that a significant number of prophets rise up, one after the other, who do not tire of speaking out God's message in relation to what was occurring in their nation.
Taking these facts on board, we wonder: what situations could have awakened this wave of prophets? If the prophets were speaking in God's name, if they were God's spokesmen, what would their message be in this time? The prophetic movement brought about 200 years of denunciation, challenge and confrontation amid the constant threats of invasion, the unleashing of war, the destruction of their nation and submission to invading empires, with insufferable taxes, as often still happens today among the poorest people. Their pain was therefore also the Prophet’s pain, and this is the irresistible call that makes them raise their voice in God’s name, bringing Jehovah’s message in the midst of all manner of sinful situations. The prophet does this being a part of the community: he is one of them. He is on the inside.
Esteban Voth, who was a member of the editorial team for the New International Version of the Bible, tells us that there are six signs that allow us to recognize a prophet:
1. The prophet is in touch with his reality in general and that of his people in particular: he walks along the streets of Jerusalem; he is not absent and does not isolate himself.
2. The prophet is a man or woman of God: taking up a commitment and participating in an irresistible Word.
3. The prophet, as a man or woman of God, “deeply feels”: he/she deeply feels the disobedience of the covenant of love made to the suffering, which determines God’s relationship with his people.
4. The prophet is a person who takes apart old worlds and creates new worlds. Only through the Word is a reality constructed. He is certain that there is a hope.
5. The prophet is someone who intensely disputes:
* With his calling
* With kings
* WIth his professional prophet peers
* With his family
6. The prophet embodies Jesus Christ’s model of service: he doesn’t get involved in a power struggle.
The Jewish people recognized that the prophetic message of these two centuries was God’s Word, and therefore an important Word for the coming generations. For this reason the prophetic literature featured in our Bible takes up a significant amount of space, which invites us even today to reflect and to act, as we get to know the life, work, ministry, and message of these people called by God.
One of these prophets was born and raised in the southern region of Israel, and was just another peasant. He was just one more inhabitant that had seen his life harshly affected after the total destruction of Samaria, the utter defeat of the Northern Kingdom by the Syrian Empire, the imposition of outrageous taxes upon the Kingdom of Judah, and the placing of Syrian gods in the temple of the Lord. In the midst of this oppressive situation this peasant RAISES HIS VOICE. His name is Micah, which means “who is like Jehovah”. His life and his sayings were recorded so that he might be remembered even today. His prophetic ministry developed in the South – at the same time as that of Isaiah – during the reigns of Jotham, Ahab and Ezekiel. Micah was a peasant and his preaching is, like that of his colleague Amos from the North, simple, direct and passionate.
Besides Micah, several other prophets appear in the Southern Kingdom. There were two clear trends in the prophetic messages: a viewpoint from the countryside and a viewpoint from the capital. Both visions help us to understand the complexity of faith in the face of the same situation. Even though the messages of the prophets vary, and vary because each one has a particular way of communicating, depending on their specific circumstances, way of life and social group, it is worth acknowledging that the prophetic books featured in the Scriptures allow us to take into account all of these visions regarding the same situation of injustice and, above all, what God proposed in order to change the situation.
This means, therefore, that wherever we find ourselves, God will always have a message for everyone and the prophet is the one responsible for transmitting it. Micah is, therefore, a prophet from the countryside and from his understanding of his situation God calls him to speak to His people, so that they might become His nabí. The prophet, without flinching, unmasks the serious sins that were being committed in the Southern Kingdom: the plunder of peasants’ land, governors who did not seek justice for the poor and the hypocrisy of the authorities who acted religiously while ill-treating and robbing the people.
The Lord calls Micah because he, as a peasant, suffers from the very situation of injustice that God wants to denounce. That’s why there is no one like him, a villager…
Erika Izquierdo, Peru