Prophetic Imagining

Breuggemann authored a number of widely read books, the most influential of which was his classic called The Prophetic Imagination first published in 1978.

Breuggeman asserts Moses embodied the psychodynamics that characterise the psyche of all prophets even to this day – both ‘grieving’ and ‘imagining’.

Breuggemann reminds us that, in speaking out in sympathy with God, Moses not only ‘grieved’ the brutal reality of an imperial regime that had enslaved his people, he also ‘imagined’ an alternative future, which did not yet exist, of a divinely constituted society of freed slaves, God would one day make reality.[1]

‘The depth of the prophet’s grief is actually what allows the penetration of hope all the way down into the despair of the people’; but it’s the prophet’s imagination that is ‘most important’ in leading the people out of their despair.[2] It is crucial that a prophet helps people move from ‘grieving’ the dominating present to ‘imagining’ a liberating future. Because we know, that ‘without a vision’ of a liberating future, ‘the people perish’ in their despair. (Prov.29:18)

The essential ‘task of prophetic ministry is to nurture, nourish, and evoke a consciousness … alternative to the consciousness … of the dominant culture. The alternative consciousness to be nurtured, on the one hand, serves to criticize in dismantling the dominant consciousness. To that extent, it attempts to do what the liberal tendency has done: engage in a rejection and delegit-imizing of the present ordering of things. On the other hand, that alternative consciousness to be nurtured serves to energize persons … by its promise of another time and situation toward which the community of faith may move. To that extent, it attempts to do what the (evangelical) tendency has done, to live in fervent anticipation of the newness that God has promised.’[3]

‘The prophet cultivates the collective imagination, which paves the way for God to redefine the people of God in their specific situation. This is the motion we see at work in Second Isaiah. The resulting amazement … in the God who inverts the power structures, gives a new song to those who grieve, birth to the barren, and nourishment to the hungry will actually bring the new community to the edge of their seat, not grasping but waiting in anticipation of what God will do to generate newness in God’s people.’[4]

For me, Jesus is the archetypal prophet; his own prophetic imagination was stimulated by the Hebrew prophets, especially by the prophet Isaiah, who inspired his message and whom he explicitly cited at the start of his ministry.

‘He (Jesus) went to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, and on the Sabbath day he went into the synagogue, as was his custom. He stood up to read, and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him.

Unrolling it, he found the place where it is written:

The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
because he has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
and recovery of sight for the blind,
to set the oppressed free,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.’[f]

Then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him. He began by say-ing to them, ‘‘Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing’’.’(Luke 4.16-21)

From that day on Jesus began to name the new movement of the ‘Lord’s favour’, announcing the alternative future he imagined as the ‘Gospel of the Kingdom of God’ or the ‘Gospel of the Kingdom of Heaven’. While Matthew primarily uses the term the ‘Kingdom of Heaven’ and other gospel writers use the term the ‘Kingdom of God,’ it is clear that these two expressions mean exactly the same thing (e.g. compare Matthew 5:3 with Luke 6:20).

The main message of Jesus was not being ‘born again’ – mentioned twice in one gospel; but the Kingdom of God / Kingdom of Heaven mentioned more than seventy times in the four gospels. He came saying, ‘The time is fulfilled the Kingdom of God is at hand, repent and believe the gospel’.(Mark 1:14-15)

Jesus wanted people to imagine the Kingdom Of Heaven could come on Earth and he wanted people to imagine they could make it a reality in their own lives. He advocated heaven as a way of life that people could experience here and now, on earth, in this life, as well as the next; teaching them to pray ‘May your kingdom come, may your will be done on earth as it is heaven’ every day. (Matt. 6:10)

In the Beatitudes Jesus introduced his disciples to the vision of the Kingdom of God he imagined – the possibility of experiencing heaven on earth (Matt. 5:3–10):

3 Blessed are the poor in spirit,

for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

4 Blessed are those who mourn,

for they will be comforted.

5 Blessed are the meek,

for they will inherit the earth.

6 Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,

for they will be filled.

7 Blessed are the merciful,

for they will be shown mercy.

8 Blessed are the pure in heart,

for they will see God.

9 Blessed are the peacemakers,

for they will be called children of God.

10 Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness,

for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

The second part of each verse is a ‘Beatitude’ or ‘Actual Blessing of the Kingdom of Heaven On Earth’. Jesus envisaged the world as a ‘kingdom of heaven on earth’, where the meek would ‘inherit the earth’ (Matt. 5.5); those who gave mercy would ‘receive mercy’ (Matt. 5.7); the hungry would be ‘filled’ (Luke 6.21) and those who hungered and thirsted for justice would be ‘fulfilled’ (Matthew 5.6); those who mourned would be ‘comforted’ (Matt. 5.4) and those who had wept bitterly would ‘laugh’ happily once more (Luke 6.21); the peacemakers would walk proudly as ‘sons and daughters of God’ (Matt. 5.9) and all those who were pure in heart, from all over the world, ‘would see God’ (Matt. 5.8) Which is surely the kind of world I imagine most people would hope for their children and grandchildren.

The first part of each verse is a ‘Be-Attitude’ or ‘Blessed Attitude Jesus encouraged people to practice to incarnate the Kingdom of Heaven on Earth’. The Beatitudes start with the phrase ‘Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.’ And the Beatitudes finish with the phrase ‘Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven’. Both are present tense. So Jesus is saying that if people would practice the Be-Attitudes they could experience the Beatitudes of the Kingdom of Heaven on Earth here and now!

I celebrated Jesus vision in a song I wrote called ‘Jesus Song’

The sun rose early;

climbed into the sky;

Took away the cold night air;

Brought the warm dawn light.

 

And Jesus sat upon a rock,

Looking round at the gathering throng

Who came to the mount to hear him speak–

To hear him sing his song.

 

Many were sick; many there were sore;

Many of them were desperate;

Many of them were poor.

 

And Jesus sat upon a rock,

Looking round at the gathering throng

Who came to the mount to hear him speak–

To hear him sing his song.

 

‘Tho’ you feel lost – God’s always gonna be with you,

Tho’ you feel sad-his grace is gonna see you through.

Don’t lose your temper – ’cause in the end you’re gonna win this fight.

Always strive for justice- everything’s gonna be alright.’

 

‘When you show mercy-then mercy will be shown to you.

Act with integrity – and you’ll see your vision come true.

Where you solve conflict – they’ll call you the “children of God”.

Some people may hate you-but the love of God is yours.’

 

Jesus’ song (mp3) (sheet music)

 

Dave Andrews

 

[1] Walter Brueggemann The Prophetic Imagination Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2001.

[2] Waltter Brueggemann The Prophetic Imagination Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2001. Revised Kindle Edition Loc. 124

[3] Walter Brueggemann The Prophetic Imagination Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2001, p. 67-78.

[4] Walter Brueggemann The Prophetic Imagination Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2001, p. 67-78.

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