Priests and Prophets aren’t usually very friendly toward each other. In fact, they’ve been known to kill each other. If you read the Hebrew Bible (Old Testament) and the New Testament Bible that is a theme that runs through both. While both think of themselves as religious, that is about all they have in common.
Priests are administrators for institutions and their chief goal is to maintain the institution. They are big on celebrations and rites held in beautiful religious surroundings and on being intermediaries for God for the lay people that they lead. Therefore, maintaining the beauty and the sanctimony of the rites and the buildings where they are held is their chief concern . The perpetuation of the religious establishment is the raison d’etre for the priestly profession.
Prophets, on the other hand, are the critics of the religious establishment, rites and institutions. They remind all of us that the rites and the buildings and the institutions are not the important things. The important thing is to do God’s will in loving God and being servants. This is a very different message. Prophets are the ones that take us back to the basics. Who remind us that “This is the Word of the Lord!” They tell us as individuals and as corporate bodies that the raison d’etre for being Christians individually and as a church is to serve God by loving God and our neighbors. Listen to some of them speak:
The prophet Micah speaks for God and asks: “With what shall I come before the Lord, and bow myself before God on high? Shall I come before him with burnt offerings, with calves a year old? Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams, with ten thousands of rivers of oil? Shall I give my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul? He has told you, O mortal, what is good and what does the Lord require of you, but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” Micah 6:5-8
And the prophet Amos thundered God’s word to Northern Israel: “I hate, I despise your festivals, and I take no delight in your solemn assemblies. Even though you offer me your burnt offerings and grain offerings, I will not accept them; and the offerings of well-being of your fatted animals I will not look upon. Take away from me the noise of your songs; I will not listen to the melody of your harps. But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.” (Amos 5:21-24)
And Jesus speaks with the same prophetic voice when he answers the man who asked him which commandment in the law is the greatest: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.” (Matthew 22:36-40)
As Richard Rohr says: “Prophets step in to disrupt the social consensus—“How wonderful our group is!” —and say, “It’s not entirely true!” ….Prophets expose and topple each group’s idols and blind spots, very often showing that we make things into absolutes that are not absolutes in God’s eyes, and we relativize what in fact is central and important. As Jesus so cleverly puts it, “You strain out gnats and you swallow camels) Matt. 23:24)
I am not saying that priests are not important. I am saying that when the voice of the priest is dominant in religion and the prophets are kicked out of the group—- that when the prophetic voice is missing in our religion, then in a short while the group will lose its sense of mission and will circle their wagons to perpetuate the status quo of the group, rather than thinking of others outside that circle. We will turn inward as individuals and as a church and not carry out the mission that Jesus gave us as Christians and as a church. Priests alone will focus on the rites and the establishment, and the church building, and forgo the mission and the message that the church is commissioned to give about the good news of the Kingdom of God—the Gospel. As Rohr says: “Jesus and the prophets are speaking to every age, addressing universal themes of illusion and our universal capacity for self-serving religion.
We need the prophets to remind us what our role is as individual Christians and as a church. Listen to the prophets in your midst!!