In a homily on Mark 1:21–28, Father Richard describes the tension between priestly and prophetic tasks—both of which are necessary for healthy religion:
There are two great strains of spiritual teachers in Judaism, and I think, if the truth is told, in all religions. There’s the priestly strain that holds the system together by repeating the tradition. The one we’re less familiar with is the prophetic strain, because that one hasn’t been quite as accepted. Prophets are critical of the very system that the priests maintain.
If we have both, we have a certain kind of wholeness or integrity. If we just have priests, we keep repeating the party line and everything is about loyalty, conformity, and following the rules—and that looks like religion. But if we have the priest and the prophet, we have a system constantly refining itself and correcting itself from within. Those two strains very seldom come together. We see it in Moses, who both gathers Israel, and yet is the most critical of his own people. We see it again in Jesus, who loves his people and his Jewish religion, but is lethally critical of hypocrisy and illusion and deceit (see Matthew 23 and Luke 11:45–12:3).
We’re living in a most amazing time because we have it in Pope Francis right now. We very seldom have a pope who is also a prophet: one who holds the tradition together, respects and conserves the tradition, but at the same time is often quite critical of the bishops and the priests (as he well should be).
Richard points out that Jesus’ first action as a prophet involved driving out evil from a religious establishment:
Jesus enters the synagogue and of course he recognizes the evil ones, and they recognize him (Mark 1:24). They’re exposed. This is the first exorcism, or casting out of a demon, and it’s in a most amazing place. It’s not in the marketplace, it’s not in the prostitutes, it’s not in the tax collectors. The devil is in the synagogue itself! This is no small symbol.
The only way evil can succeed is to disguise itself as good. And one of the best disguises for evil is religion. Just pretend to love God, go to church every Sunday, recite the creed, and say all the right things. Someone can be racist, be against the poor, hate immigrants, and be totally concerned about making money and being a materialist, but still go to church each Sunday and be “justified” in the eyes of religion.
Those are the things that prophets point out, so prophets aren’t nearly as popular as priests. Priests keep repeating the party line, so there’s no reason to fight them. But prophets do both: they put together the best of the conservative with the best of the liberal, to use contemporary language. They honor the tradition, and they also say what’s phony about the tradition. That’s what fully spiritually mature people can do.
Adapted from Richard Rohr, “Lots of Priests, Not So Many Prophets,” homily, January 28, 2018.
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:
As I look back over my 70 years, paradoxically many of the most peaceful times of my life were when I reached the end of my strength, when I had no strategies whatsoever left to “fix” things. It was when my teenage son went into a deep depression requiring hospitalization; when my second marriage fell apart; when I required major surgery but had no health insurance. In the times when I felt completely empty and keenly aware of my lack of any power or control, I found strength and peace in throwing myself in Jesus’ arms. Finding real power through weakness rings absolutely true for me. —Jo S.