Prophets always call upon people to change. That's why the famous Scripture scholar Hans Walter Wolff often reminded us students, "One way you can distinguish a real prophet from a fake prophet is that the real prophet causes confusion."

Human beings don't like to be confused. Early in life, we create patterns and structures which help us deal with reality, patterns and strictures which we long to keep in place throughout our lives.

But, once in a while, a prophet comes into our lives smashing -- or at least shaking -- those positions, a prophet who asks us to step out of our artificial security and give ourselves over to God's real security. It's a very confusing experience.

Hope and exile

No one created more confusion during the Babylonian Exile than Deutero-Isaiah. Being in exile was confusing enough, an event which ancient Israelites believed would never happen. Yet even in the midst of the pain which exile brings, many faithful Jews still held out hope that Yahweh would send a messiah -- a specially chosen and anointed person -- who would free them.

To the people's consolation, Deutero-Isaiah announces just such a savior (Is 45:1, 4-6). But, to the people's confusion, he proclaims Yahweh's anointed won't be a good, Yahweh-fearing, circumcised Jewish boy; he'll be an uncircumcised, Gentile pagan who'd never even heard of Yahweh: Cyrus, the Persian emperor.

"Thus says Yahweh to his anointed, Cyrus," the prophet announces, "whose right hand I grasp, subduing nations before him, and making kings run in his service...,For the sake of Jacob, my servant, of Israel, my chosen one, I have called you by your name, giving you a title, though you knew me not."

I have no doubt that a majority of Deutero-Isaiah's audience demanded to know why, if Yahweh was going to save them, Yahweh wouldn't do it according to the patterns and structures with which they were familiar. Exile was confusing enough without adding worse confusion. Now they were being forced to look beyond Judaism in order to find a savior for Judaism.

Jesus, as prophet, creates similar confusion during His earthly ministry (Mt 22:15-21). Addressing people who live in Roman-occupied Israel, he refuses to be limited by the structures which His oppressed fellow Jews have created. Through the long occupation, some Jews, the Herodians, had started to collaborate with the Romans; while others, the Pharisees, had resisted any semblance of cooperation. Here the two join forces against Jesus, their common enemy.

Caesar and God

Jesus refuses to be trapped in a pro-Roman/anti-Roman pattern.

"Repay to Caesar what belongs to Caesar," he commands. But then He quickly adds, "Repay to God what belongs to God." In other words, "Don't get so distracted by questions of Caesar's demands that you forget to fulfill God's demands."

Jesus asks His followers to go beyond commonly accepted world and political views, and to look at reality from God's view. As confusing as such a change of direction is, Jesus' disciples are convinced that it's the only way to have a fulfilled life.

Paul rejoices in the second reading (I Thes 1:1-5) that his community in Thessalonika has worked through their initial confusion and achieved some of that fulfillment. He thanks God for their "work of faith and labor of love and endurance in hope of our Lord Jesus Christ." And he reminds the Thessalonians: "Our Gospel did not come to you in word alone, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with much conviction."

Those who change and renew their lives because of the prophetic word they hear, will always have to work through confusion. But the power and conviction which waits at the end of that confusion, makes it all worthwhile.