Wednesday, September 13, 2017
A prophet is one who keeps God free for people and who keeps people free for God. Both of these are much needed and vital tasks. God has been imprisoned and made inaccessible, and far too many people have been shamed and taught guilt to keep us clergy in business. Our job became “sin management.” Sadly the laity bought into this negative story line. That is what happens when priests are not informed by prophets.
The priestly class invariably makes God less accessible instead of more so, “neither entering yourselves nor letting others enter in,” as Jesus says (Matthew 23:13). For the sake of our own job security, the priestly message is often: “You can only come to God through us, by doing the right rituals, obeying the rules, and believing the right doctrines.” This is like telling God who God is allowed to love! The clergy and religious leaders, unintentionally perhaps, teach their disciples “learned helplessness.” Thus the prophets spend much of their time destroying and dismissing these barriers and trying to create “a straight highway to God” (Matthew 3:3). Both John the Baptist and Jesus tried to free God for the people, and it got them killed.
The other half of the prophet’s job is to keep people free for God. We get trapped in chains of guilt and low self-esteem, focusing on our imperfect church attendance and inability to live up to the law’s standard. As if the goal of religion is “attendance” at an occasional ritual instead of constant participation in an Eternal Mystery! Prophets turn our ideas of success and belonging on their head, emphasizing God’s unconditional and unmerited love in response to our shortcomings. God is always breaking the approved “rules of God” by forgiving sinners, choosing the outsider or the weak, showing up in secular places.
Our job is to love others the way God has loved us. In my life, I’ve experienced God’s unearned love again and again. God has persistently broken the rules to love me at the level I needed, could receive, and was able to understand throughout my life. The magnanimous nature of divine love keeps liberating me at deeper levels where I’m still entrapped.
Priests construct and prophets deconstruct these constructed illusions. Any true ministry then reconstructs on this now solid foundation. Only a contemplative or nondual thinker like Jesus can honor both the priestly and prophetic functions. Frankly, it is rare.
Gateway to Silence:
Do not be afraid.
Adapted from Richard Rohr, Way of the Prophet (Center for Action and Contemplation: 1994), audio, no longer available; and
Prophets Then, Prophets Now, disc 3 (Center for Action and Contemplation: 2006), CD, MP3 download.