How do we find out what God wants us to do? Christians answer that question in two basic ways.

Those denominations that, through the centuries, have developed a rigid authority structure will fall back on that structure to surface God's will for them: "The person whom God has put in charge will tell me what God wants me to do."

Other denominations fall back on Scripture. They continually search their sacred writings, looking for God's will in His word: "I do it because the Bible tells me to do it."

Actually, the Bible itself offers a different way to discover what God wants us to do. In both the Hebrew and Christian Scrip-tures, we accomplish this by first surfacing, then listening to the prophets in our midst.


Our biblical writers presume these "consciences of the people" are essential in uncovering the path God wishes us to travel. For instance, at the beginning of chapter 14 of I Corinthians, Paul tells his community, "Pursue love, but strive eagerly for the spiritual gifts, above all that you may prophesy....The one who prophesies speaks to human beings for their building up, encouragement and solace."

Hearing the first reading (Jer 20: 10-13), it's easy to understand why we'd rather fall back on Scripture or an authority structure to find out God's will. As one scholar always reminded us, "prophets tell us the future implication of our present actions." Because we prefer to ignore those painful implications, we attack the prophet.

Jeremiah complains to Yahweh, "I hear the whispering of many: terror on every side? Denounce? Let us denounce him! All those who were my friends are on the watch for any misstep of mine. 'Perhaps he will be trapped; then we can prevail and take our vengeance on him.'"

Matthew's Jesus tells us one reason why prophets are so hated (Mt 10: 26-33). "Nothing is concealed," He states, "that will not be revealed, no secret that will not be known. What I say to you in the darkness, speak in the light; what you hear whispered, proclaim on the housetops."

Prophets expose what we'd rather not have exposed. They bring to light what can only exist successfully in darkness. No one enjoys such exposure, not even prophets.

We know from the second reading (Rom 5: 12-15) that, because of sin's pervasiveness, we'll always have to deal with concealment. Yet, Paul's convinced that the good with which God gifted us through Jesus is infinitely more powerful than the evil which Adam brought us: "For if by that one person's transgression the many died, how much more did the grace of God and gracious gift of the one person Jesus Christ overflow for the many."

The cost

To surface good and expose evil will always cost prophets big-time. That's why we should return to the Gospel and listen carefully to Jesus' supportive words: "Fear no one....Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul; rather, be afraid of the one who can destroy both soul and body in Gehenna. Are not two sparrows sold for a small coin?...Do not be afraid, you are worth more than many sparrows."

Jesus can't be more emphatic or more consoling at the same time. Only fear stops us from being the people He wishes us to be, from exposing the evil which stops us from discovering the worth, that the historical Jesus was convinced all of us possess.

In contrast to Jeremiah's experience, Jesus expects us to support the prophets among us, helping them overcome the fear which makes them hesitate to prophesy. According to our sacred authors, we can't become God's people without ministry.