Reflection of the Week - 24th January 2023

By Richard Rohr

Posted in Faith

Contemplation with reference to Albert Nolan, by Richard Rohr

This meditation focuses on Jesus as prophet. Albert Nolan (1934–2022) was a South African theologian and anti-apartheid activist inspired by Jesus’ prophetic identity.

In their speculations about who Jesus was, his contemporaries agreed that, whatever else, he was a prophet (Mark 8:27–28; Luke 7:16). Some might have thought that he was a false prophet, but he clearly spoke and acted like a prophet. And that is surely how Jesus saw himself (Luke 4:24). He does not seem to have ever contradicted anyone who referred to him as a prophet. In its basic inspiration, therefore, Jesus’ spirituality was like that of the Hebrew prophets.

Jesus spoke, as most prophets do, for or on behalf of God. In fact he seems to have done so more confidently and boldly than any other prophet. Where did Jesus derive this unshakeable assurance that he could speak so directly for God?

Prophets experience not only a special calling from God, but also a special closeness to God that enables them to understand God’s ‘feelings’ and ‘thoughts’ about what is happening or will happen in the future. It is this mystical experience of union with God that enables them to speak on God’s behalf.

In reading the gospels, the general impression we get is that Jesus was very much a man of action: preaching, teaching, healing, and confronting the religious and political leadership. What we do not always notice is that behind, and in support of, all these activities was a life of constant prayer and profound contemplation.

Nolan points to the contemplative spirituality that infused Jesus’ prophetic action:

Jesus seems to have taken every possible opportunity of getting away to a quiet and lonely place for prayer and reflection. ‘In the morning, while it was still very dark,’ Mark 1:35 tells us, ‘[Jesus] got up and went out to a deserted place, and there he prayed’ (see also Mark 6:46 and Luke 4:42). Luke 5:16 says he did this regularly. Before choosing his twelve apostles, he spent the whole night in prayer, we are told (Luke 6:12).

What interests us here is the powerfully simple way in which prophecy and mysticism form an inseparable whole in the life and spirituality of Jesus. Traditionally … prophets were mystics and mystics were prophets. Any idea that one could be a prophet calling for justice and social change without some experience of union with God was unthinkable. Equally unthinkable was any idea that one could be a perfectly good mystic without becoming critically outspoken about the injustices of one’s time.

Nolan views Jesus as ultimately calling all of us to be prophets.

Anyone who wishes to take Jesus seriously would have to be prepared to become a prophet and a mystic. In the history of Israel before Jesus, prophets were rare individuals. Jesus’ aim was to open up the spirit of prophecy to everyone. Then too we can all become courageous enough to speak out like prophets.


Albert Nolan, Jesus Today: A Spirituality of Radical Freedom  (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 2006), 63, 67, 68, 72, 75.

Source: Jesus Prophet — Center for Action and Contemplation (


More from Faith

Subscribe to receive Faith articles by email >


Reflection of the Week - 31st January 2023

New Year’s resolutions are offered with the best intentions, though so often have the worst follow through. We may aim too high, or expect to implement things that have previously passed us by in our busyness.


Reflection of the Week - 20th December 2022

All claims to the contrary, Jesus did not preach from a place of rigid binaries and judgments but from a place of continual becoming. He befriended outcasts and lived on the margins of society while staying in relationship with wealthy and powerful people, some of whom became patrons and disciples.


Comments (3)