You’re a troublemaker. That was a dangerous accusation when we were kids. Someone had run out of patience with us and a reckoning was near. It’s a judgment just as perilous to an adult. Nearly everyone has encountered someone who finds their identity in upsetting others. The distress they cause reassures them of their importance and power. It’s distasteful behavior, to say the least.
Being a troublemaker is an occupational hazard for a preacher. It’s a cheap form of self-affirmation masquerading as loyalty to God’s truth. Still, it’s not always easy to detect.
The life of a just person will be troublesome for the unjust. Whether accompanied by words or silently but plainly visible, the life of a just man or woman is a challenge to those living first for their own security. The tension created by justice lived in the face of self-centeredness is known as prophesy: a revelation of our Creator’s will, a change of direction called for by God’s Future.
How do we distinguish between an authentic prophet whose words give rise to a healthy tension within us and a troublemaker promoting his self-image at our expense?
A prophet has an obvious love for her people, in particular for those who disagree with and reject her. A prophet also has a sense of inner peace that shines through even when she speaks words of conflict. It is obvious that her sense of self is not founded on her power over others. And she will give evidence of this by the respect she consistently affords all, especially those who resist her message.
Many people want to tell us how to behave. Many would be prophets claim a superior moral sense. All of us know that we don’ t have all life’s answers. We also have to admit that our weaknesses render simply liking or disliking a moral judgment a very unreliable criterion for its truth.
Jesus taught a demanding morality. This frequently resulted in consternation among his hearers. In the end, the experience of God’s love that people found reflected in him gave Jesus his authority. Without such love there is no prophesying. There is only bullying.