Skip to main content
Center for Action and Contemplation

Archetypal Religion

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Prophets: Self Critical Thinking

Archetypal Religion
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!

Adapted from Way of the Prophet (no longer available);
and Prophets Then, Prophets Now (CD, MP3 download)

Image credit: The Way of the Prophet by Mike Van, concept by Vivienne Close.
Navigate by Date

This year’s theme

The Prophetic Path

It can be easier to turn away from suffering than face it with an open heart. That’s why our 2023 Daily Meditations theme, The Prophetic Path, empowers us to not avoid or fear the pain of the world, but turn toward it with compassion.

The archives

Explore the Daily Meditations

Explore past meditations and annual themes by browsing the Daily Meditations archive. Explore by topic or use the search bar to find wisdom from specific teachers.

Join our email community

Sign-up to receive the Daily Meditations, featuring reflections on the wisdom and practices of the Christian contemplative tradition.

Hidden Fields

Find out about upcoming courses, registration dates, and new online courses.
Our theme this year is Nothing Stands Alone. What could happen if we embraced the idea of God as relationship—with ourselves, each other, and the world? Meditations are emailed every day of the week, including the Weekly Summary on Saturday. Each week builds on previous topics, but you can join at any time.
In a world of fault lines and fractures, how do we expand our sense of self to include love, healing, and forgiveness—not just for ourselves or those like us, but for all? This monthly email features wisdom and stories from the emerging Christian contemplative movement. Join spiritual seekers from around the world and discover your place in the Great Story Line connecting us all in the One Great Life. Conspirare. Breathe with us.