Prophets: Self Critical Thinking
Tuesday, February 17, 2015
The biblical tradition hopes to reveal that whenever the prophetic function is lacking in any group or religion, such a group will very soon be self-serving, self-maintaining, self-perpetuating, and self- promoting. When the prophets are kicked out of any group, it’s a very short time until that group is circling the wagons around itself, and all sense of mission and message is lost. I am afraid this is the natural movement of any institution. Establishments of any kind usually move toward their own self-perpetuation, rather than “What are we doing for others?” In fact, the question is not even asked because self-perpetuation is presumed to be a high level necessity. Thus the prophetic and Pauline words for institutions were “thrones or dominions or principalities or powers” (Colossians 1:16). They consider themselves “too big to fail,” usually because they are protecting their own privilege—which is too important to question.
I believe Jewish religion is archetypal religion because it illustrates the pattern of maturity/immaturity, advancement/regression, best/worst that characterizes all cultures and all religions. Catholicism is a mirror image of Judaism. The Church has made the same mistakes, but we normally cannot see them or acknowledge them. “Jesus is talking about the Jews,” some would smugly say! When they read the prophetic passages in the Bible, many do not think it applies to them because most Christians seem to think that Christianity “replaced” Judaism and fully corrected Judaism’s mistakes. They are wrong on both counts! You might as well just stop reading the Word of God if you think it only applies to those people who did it wrong, and “thank God we are not like them” (Luke 18:11). The patterns never change.
Once you see Judaism as archetypal religion—that the patterns of ego and transformation and regression are universal—your own reflection in the prophet’s mirror becomes very clear. If we do not see Jesus and the prophets speaking to every age, addressing universal themes of illusion and our universal capacity for self-serving religion, I believe we have found a most clever way to honor the prophets into insignificance. They’re really harmless when we make their message simply, “They foretold the coming of the Messiah.”
Prophets step in to disrupt the usual social consensus—“How wonderful our group is!”—and say, “It’s just not entirely true!” So you see why the prophets are all killed (Matthew 23:29-39). Prophets expose and topple each group’s idols and blind spots, very often showing that we make things into absolutes that are not absolutes in God’s eyes, and we relativize what in fact is central and important. As Jesus so cleverly puts it, “You strain out gnats and you swallow camels” (Matthew 23:24).
This tendency in religion to “absolutize” things comes from a deep psychological need for some solid ground to stand on, and I understand that. But what the prophets keep saying is, “God is the only absolute!” Don’t make the fingers pointing to the moon into the moon itself, as it were. Jeremiah said, “The Temple, the Temple, the Temple of Yahweh! Don’t you recognize it has become a robber’s den?” (7:1-11) and this is the very line that Jesus quotes (Mark 11:17). But of course he was talking about Jerusalem, and surely not our parish church, Salt Lake City, Washington, DC, or much less, St. Peter’s in Rome.
With that, perhaps we are ready to begin Lent tomorrow.
Gateway to Silence:
Welcome, uncomfortable truth!