For the prophets, it was all about the purity and integrity of the divine-human relationship, which led them to point out the immense injustices of their world, their kings, and their priests.
Richard Rohr's Daily Meditation
The Way of the Prophet by Mike Van, concept by Vivienne Close
The Way of the Prophet by Mike Van, concept by Vivienne Close    
Prophets: Self Critical Thinking
A Self-Balancing System
Wednesday, February 18, 2015
(Ash Wednesday) 

In the Hebrew Scriptures, the central institution of Temple sacrifice, priests, and Levites attempted to balance itself with prophets, or the legitimation of official, sanctioned critics, even though they usually killed them in the end. But at least the immense institutional prestige and authority of ritual and priestcraft was balanced by the charismatic authority of the truth-speaking prophets. One was an inherited and ascribed status, the other was earned by speaking truth with no formal legitimation ever possible (Deuteronomy 18:9-22). There is no ordination for a prophet. So you can perhaps sense the inherent tension between prophets and priests, and also between prophets and kings (2 Samuel 12:1-7). Kings and priests were maintainers of social order. The prophets were disrupters of the social consensus. Within the system there is inherent conflict but, ideally, also a balance.


The priestly class, the scribes, the lawyers, and the temple formed a structured, rational religion. Prophets focused less on the rational, and spoke more from the right-brain, from intuition, through poetry and images and what they referred to as oracle, trance, or divination. To the prophets, everything revolved around faithfulness to Yahweh. For them it was all about the purity and integrity of the divine-human relationship, which led them to point out the immense injustices of their world, their kings, and their priests.


Prophets, by their very nature, can't be right at the center of the social structure. They cannot be full insiders, but they cannot throw rocks from outside either. Their structural position to this day is "on the edge of the inside." You must know and live the essential rules before you can critique what is not essential or not as important. (See Jesus do this masterfully in Matthew 5:17-48.) As Moses, the first prophet, learned, once Pharaoh is your benefactor and protector, there are many questions you can't ask anymore. You can't ask about liberation of slaves in Pharaoh's house, nor do questions of justice or equality make it to the dining room table. And if you do ask such questions, you will not be answered, but quietly--or savagely--eliminated. Is this not obvious? I think it would be very hard to preach the real Gospel in the White House, under any President of the USA, Democrat or Republican.


After Christianity became the established religion of the Western Empire in the 4th century, the priestly mentality pretty much took over in both East and West, and prophets basically disappeared. The Emperors even convened the Councils of the Church for many centuries. I have never come upon a single church in the whole world named "Christ the Prophet." Maybe now you know why. The top of the hierarchy was where almost all clergy henceforth resided, and usually in the good company of kings and princes who were their patrons. That is the perspective for most of preaching and Scripture interpretation for the next 1700 years: from white, European, educated, comfortable, often celibate males. I am one myself, and we are not all bad. But we are not all--by a long shot! It is time for the democratization of the Church, and Scripture has given us all the needed building blocks to do just that (e.g., 1 Corinthians 12, Galatians 3:26-29).


My father, St. Francis, saw this problem in the 13th century and refused priesthood himself (he conceded to some early ordinations in the community, but only if such friars were first committed to radical poverty and humility). Pope Francis is evoking the same Gospel spirit, and I pray for his success and protection. What an irony that the ultimate establishment person would take the name of a non-establishment saint. It shocked the world, because we do not expect prophecy from popes. I am not sure we have ever seen a pope and a prophet in the same person in all of history!

Adapted from Way of the Prophet (no longer available);
and Dancing Standing Still: Healing the World from a Place of Prayer, p. 37;
and Prophets Then, Prophets Now (CD, MP3 download)
Gateway to Silence
Welcome, uncomfortable truth!
A new audio teaching from Fr. Richard:
Hell, No!

In his pivotal talk, Richard Rohr draws from Scripture, the Fathers and mystics of the church, philosophy, and psychology to show that Divine Love is stronger than hell, death, or sin. In the end, grace wins!


Order the CD or MP3 download at


This talk was recorded at CONSPIRE 2014, a conference sponsored by the Center for Action and Contemplation, and is also included in In the Beginning: Six hours with Rob Bell and Richard Rohr on reclaiming the original Christian narrative (CD and MP3 download).
2015 Daily Meditation Theme

Richard Rohr's meditations this year explore his "Wisdom Lineage," the teachers, texts, and traditions that have most influenced his spirituality. Read an introduction to the year's theme and view a list of the elements of Fr. Richard's lineage in CAC's January newsletter, the Mendicant.  

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