"The Prophets We Prefer"
by Sherri Nanninga Walker
. Our tour group huddles outside the southwest corner of the Temple Mount in Old City Jerusalem. We peer down an alley of rubble next to the west wall, with huge stones tumbled like a giant’s blocks.
Herod the Great rebuilt the Jerusalem Temple with limestone blocks the size of Toyotas. Roman soldiers set those blocks on fire when they destroyed the Temple in 70 CE. And when limestone is superheated, our tour guide tells us, it explodes. Archaeologists found bones here, and abandoned this section as a burial ground. Perhaps blazing stones had burst from the parapet and crushed people in the street. We look up, to the top of the wall, and shiver.
In this week’s lectionary readings, the prophets offer clashing views of the future. "
See, the day is coming, burning like an oven...the day that comes shall burn them up
," says Malachi 4:1. "
For I am about to create new heavens and a new earth
," says Isaiah 65:17.
Jesus joins the prophet dogpile in Luke 21:6. Folks stand with Jesus on the Temple Mount, admiring the fine marbles and gold-leaf. He says, "
As for these things that you see, the days will come when not one stone will be left upon another; all will be thrown down
I find prophet-Jesus unsettling—he’s scary. Wars, earthquakes, famines, plagues, prisons. You’ll be betrayed. You’ll be hated. By your endurance you will gain your souls, Jesus says. The day is coming.
Yet, this week Isaiah 65 reads: "
Be glad and rejoice forever in what I am creating; for I am about to create Jerusalem as a joy, and its people as a delight
Isaiah 12 reads: "
You will say in that day: Give thanks to the LORD
Psalm 98 reads: "
O sing to the LORD a new song, for [God] has done marvelous things
These are the prophets we prefer: they assure us of harvest, of security, of divine equity, of peace. But the lectionary, which pairs Bible passages like wines and entrees, urges us to read scary prophets alongside comforting prophets.
We live in a fierce tension of what is, and what will come. When the walls are burning around us (or above us) these readings give hope:
Before they call I will answer; while they are yet speaking I will hear
. (Isaiah 65:24)