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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2 thoughts on “Abraham Heschel and Jesus the Prophet”

  1. Peter,

    Thanks. I had forgotten how much I loved this book. I also think it is important for Christians – pastors in particular – to refer to the Jewish tradition for our own understanding of the Old Testament. It is foolish for us to go to these texts as if we are the first person to ponder over them.

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