Who are the wisest prophets?

January 23, 2012

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"The Lord your God will raise
up for you a prophet like me from among your own people; you shall heed such a
prophet." In an
election year, this passage from Deuteronomy makes me feel slightly sick to my
stomach.

Most of us have run across someone whom we are fairly
sure is a "prophet who speaks in the name of other gods," but in election years
we hear so many voices, all of them clamoring to be more prophetic than the
next. How are we to choose the truly prophetic voice? How are we to know who is
best suited to receive such power and authority?

Yet the Lord says to Moses, "I will put my words in the
mouth of the prophet, who shall speak to them everything that I command. Anyone
who does not heed the words that the prophet shall speak in my name, I myself
will hold accountable." We want to get this right.

The final scene in Caleb's
Crossing,
Gwendolyn Brooks's most recent novel, portrays Caleb, a young
Native American man, on his deathbed. The book is based on a true story. Caleb
was the first Native American to graduate from Harvard College in 1665. He
planned to become a minister, having converted to Christianity through the
influence of a Puritan preacher and of Bethia, his daughter. The Puritans hoped
Caleb would go on to be a prophet to his people, preaching and converting them.

Now as he lies dying, Caleb is unable to find comfort and
peace. Despite her strict Calvinistic upbringing, Bethia knows Caleb will only
find comfort with the faith of his people. After all her work to convert him,
Bethia seeks help from Caleb's medicine-man uncle, who gives her the secret
words, rituals and herbs to help release Caleb's spirit. Bethia concludes her
narration of the story knowing that in effecting a sort of reverse exorcism, she
has committed a great sin--yet somehow done what is right.

Bethia instinctively restores healing and meaning to
Caleb's life, as did Jesus when he healed in a culture that was sometimes
shocked and appalled by his choices and settings. False prophets sow division
and ill feeling. As we seek out the wisest prophets in our own culture, we can
sometimes find them by listening for words that restore healing and meaning,
even when the source is unconventional or surprising.