Richard Rohr understands Jesus in a long line of Jewish prophets who revealed inconvenient truths to their people. Jesus exposes the shadow, confronts the ego, and calls the people to be transformed.
The shadow is that part of the self that we don’t want to see, we don’t want others to see, and of which we’re always afraid. Our tendency is to try to hide it or deny it, even and most especially from ourselves. Jesus, quoting the prophet Isaiah, describes it as “listening but not understanding, seeing but not perceiving” (Matthew 13:14–15).
Archaic religion and most of the history of religion has seen the shadow as the problem. Such religion is about getting rid of the shadow. This is the classic example of dealing with the symptom instead of the cause. We cannot really get rid of the shadow. We can only expose its game—which is, in great part, to get rid of its effects.
Jesus and the prophets deal with the cause, which is the ego. Our problem is not our shadow self as much as our over-defended ego, which always sees and hates its own faults in other people, and thus avoids its own conversion.
Jesus’ phrase for the denied shadow is “the plank in your own eye,” which you invariably see as the “splinter in your neighbor’s eye” (Matthew 7:3–5). Jesus’ advice is absolutely perfect: “Take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly enough to take the splinter out of your neighbor’s eye.” He does not deny that we should deal with evil, but we had better do our own inner housecleaning first—in a most radical way, which he will later even hyperbolically describe as plucking out our eye (Matthew 18:9). If we do not see our own “plank,” it is inevitable that we will hate it elsewhere.
The genius of Jesus is that he wastes no time on repressing or denying the shadow. In that, he is a classic prophet, one of those who does not merely expose the denied shadow of Israel, but instead attacks the real problem, which is the ego and arrogance of Israel and people misusing power. Once we expose the shadow for what it is, its game is over. Its effectiveness entirely depends on disguise (see 2 Corinthians 11:14) and not seeing the plank in our own eye. Once we see our own plank, the “speck” in our neighbor’s eye becomes inconsequential.
Jesus is not too interested in moral purity because he knows that any preoccupation with repressing the shadow does not lead us into personal transformation, empathy, compassion, or patience, but invariably into denial or disguise, repression or hypocrisy. Isn’t that rather evident? Immature religion creates a high degree of cognitively rigid people or very hateful and attacking people—and often both. It is almost the public image of Christianity today, yet God’s goal is exactly the opposite.
Adapted from Richard Rohr, Things Hidden: Scripture as Spirituality (Cincinnati, OH: Franciscan Media, 2008, 2022), 78, 79–80.
Image credit: A path from one week to the next—Benjamin Yazza, Untitled 8, 13, and 7. Used with permission. Click here to enlarge image. Jesus used the mystery and variety of the natural world to teach us.
Story from Our Community:
I am a 56-year-old gay man living in the conservative South. Your morning contemplations are the highlight of a morning. I was raised in an evangelical household, and I followed a path that I thought I understood: attending a Baptist University, and believing that God would judge me imperfect and send me to eternal torture if I were found unworthy. As an adult, I began to listen or read other opinions. I began to meditate and hear a voice of Love in my heart. These days, I often see God in ALL of everything. —Thomas H.