Two weeks ago while chopping an onion I sliced into the index finger of my left hand. It bled quite a lot. I bandaged it tightly and went to a local walk-in medical facility to have it examined and treated. Right away the nurse took the bandage off and ran lots of water on the cut, which started its bleeding again. Then she poured a healthy amount of rubbing alcohol on it, and that stung for a while as the bleeding continued. (This is called “irrigating a wound.”) Later a physician examined and bandaged the finger. The wound has now healed well, with no infection.
Since then I’ve realized that what happened with my finger is akin to what happens with Biblical prophecy. Jesus and the Hebrew prophets before Him made pronouncements that were intended as a means toward healing. Prophets were not so much predictors of the future as they were analysts and commentators on what was going on currently in people’s relationships with God and with one another—what was wounded that needed to be healed, beginning with irrigation of the wounds. If the prophets were true and not false what they said offended people. (Jesus said, “A prophet is without honor in his own land.” Mark 6.4) It was the false prophets who said, “Everything is fine just as it is.” The true prophets said, “Here’s what’s wrong with what’s happening now and here’s how it needs to change.” Ouch.
Our customary lives have been profoundly disturbed by the viral pandemic, economic disruption, and social protest and this has become a time of deep and frightening questioning. How are we to live in society—how are we to live in the Church? Everyday routines are interrupted and taken for granted assumptions are challenged. Voices of prophecy surround us, some true and some false. What’s being said can hurt a lot—like alcohol on an open wound. Yet we need not be afraid to listen to prophetic critique even when it stings in the moment. If it’s true prophecy it’s a message that God loves us and is ultimately concerned for our well being, which is like what the nurse did first off with my cut finger. She cleansed it thoroughly, thus preparing it for healing.
The Rev. Charles Hoffacker is a retired priest of the Diocese of Washington