Prophets: Part Two
Monday July 8, 2019
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. Without the educated gift of prophecy, God almost always becomes imprisoned and made inaccessible, and far too many people have been shamed and taught guilt to keep us clergy in business. We saw our job as “sin management.” That is not just being clever. I believe we religious leaders actually thought that. Sadly, the laity fully 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.”
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 legalism, 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 continual shortcomings. God is always breaking the approved “rules of God” by forgiving sinners, choosing the outsider or the weak, and showing up in secular places. Please check the Bible if you doubt me!
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, and then I think that newly discovered level of love is the deepest. But it’s a journey that never stops giving. Why wouldn’t everybody want that? But many actually fight it.
Adapted from Richard Rohr, Way of the Prophet (Center for Action and Contemplation: 1994), audio, no longer available; and