for me, a huge part of it depends on whether what she or he is saying resonates with me. seems like the right thing, the truth being called into a moment in time or culture. that the the message isn't easy to hear and act on, but it's right.
and the prophetic is, for me, not just about something that is true, but about something that must be seen, and dealt with, and (hopefully) changed. how's this: gandhi was prophetic. his words and actions were a message to his culture (and then everybody's); they were intended to change things for the better. that's the purpose of the prophetic: change.
for me, too, part of what makes a prophet, as opposed to a false prophet, is what happens, how culture changes, because of her/his influence. i believe the prophetic is from god if a prophet's message causes people to be more loving, more courageous for good, more humble, more healthy - individually and especially systemically, culturally, economically, politically, relationally, whatever. the prophetic creates equality.
if a prophetic message causes all those things to be less loving, less courageous and more fearful, more arrogant, sicker - it's not, for me, from god.
and something that just helps out - mobile loaves and fishes, for instance, which is an austin outreach to the homeless and hungry - isn't necessarily prophetic, AND YET - just by being in the world, mobile loaves and fishes points out need and inequity and that something is wrong ... and in showing up, it points out what might need to change.
oh - and - the most important message of the prophetic is that the true change doesn't happen outside, or in someone else, or by kicking out the bad guys. true change happens within.
- harsh tv and talk radio voices from the far right and the far left who just point fingers at each other? not prophetic, even though they pretend to be; jimmy carter and gandhi? supremely prophetic - their messages are connected not to how evil the enemy is, but to the ultimate reality which is, there is no enemy.
- the cynic who goes around showing everyone how much smarter she is than everyone else by pointing out what's wrong with everything? not prophetic; the kid who innocently and sincerely says "the emperor has no clothes"? prophetic.
- anyone who defends the system because the system is by nature right? not prophetic. reports from habitat for humanity, or relief workers in war-ravaged countries, or those working to care for the sick and oppressed? prophetic.
- sunday schools and churches that keep everything in place? not prophetic; people who follow jesus and screw things up? change the way they look at the world? change the way the world works? make trouble in the best sense? prophetic.
- jerry seinfeld? funny, but not prophetic; andrea gibson the slam poet? prophetic.
what, black people are equal to white people? women and men are equally important? homosexuals are people too? india doesn't belong to the british? empires taking over other countries is wrong? controlling human beings with violence and torture and rape and murder is wrong?
political cartoonists often feel prophetic to me. satirists too. (prophets can be funny - look at some of the stuff the jewish prophets - and john the baptist, and jesus - pulled.)
and - too - even though the prophet will often have friends and helpers and followers, the prophet is always an outsider. how else can s/he see where the message goes?
and don't blame god for what happens after the message is delivered. god can't control what happens with the message once it's delivered. and so ... god keeps sending messages.
who or what is prophetic for you? let's chew on it and see what happens.