Yesterday’s Gospel reading, combined with a fine sermon from the associate priest, got me thinking about the prophetic office and vocation. (We did the Feast of the Dedication so the readings are different.) Well, to be fair, a lot of things prompt me to think about the prophetic vocation these days. Jesus sure does root out corruption, clean house, get angry. The cleansing of the temple is rightly understood as an image of divine wrath on the corrupt exclusivisms of the Church, but we can’t stop there if we’re going to drive down to the true heart of prophecy. We often think prophecy is all about getting angry, making waves at the authorities, saying the “unpopular” thing. But it’s so very easy for those to turn into ends in themselves–or worse, ways to prop up the prophet’s own ego. Whatever happens to be unpopular can so quickly become popular, the waves and changes of one generation have a funny way of getting entrenched as the institutional MO, and frankly some folks have more of a right to be angry than others. Mark Driscoll, and perhaps some critics of Mark Driscoll, are poignant examples of prophecy gone awry. I’m one episode into the Christianity Today podcast about all that, and I can already see how truly prophetic it might be by not going the ideologically angry route of “gotcha” journalism.
Prophecy, be it Jesus in the temple, or Jeremiah in Judah or the compilers of the Deuteronomistic history in Babylon and after the exile, or those of us discerning a call to name the internal struggles and complicities of the Church today, does not get some sort of exception away from being rooted in the love of God who builds up God’s people, the love of God shown in Jesus Christ. Because nothing exists outside of God’s love; Christ is the one in whom all things are held together. A false, self-serving prophet divides and harms: their allegorical sentence of stoning is commensurate with Jesus’ hyperbolic claim that false, self-serving shepherds deserve to be sunk with a millstone. But a true prophet seeks to model the very humility, compassion and generosity that they are calling on the authorities to pursue, seeks to root their life and therefore their critique in the unifying love of the Holy Spirit. Jesus makes cleanse the temple to be the place of prayer and gathering for all people; may the Holy Spirit cleanse us to be the place of prayer and gathering for all people, building us up in love.