For the past several days, we've been looking at the story of Moses and Aaron and how it came to be that while one was on the mountain in the presence of the Lord, the other was with the people, molding a golden calf for them. Most of this boils down to the difference between the priest and the prophet and how the people deal with these men of God.
So the question easily becomes: what are we - the "men" of God - supposed to do?
We are a people who are a priesthood. We believe that. Most of our (Protestant) churches talk about the "priesthood of all believers." Paul even says so much. But as we've seen, being a priest is a dangerous proposition. It doesn't take much for us to start making calves of our own.
Yet we are priests. And we are also prophets. Jesus put a heavy emphasis on our being truth. Speaking truth. Boldly proclaiming truth. Paul, too, puts an emphasis on truth. If anyone teaches anything other than this Gospel, he says, ignore them. Chase them away. Ridicule them. Eliminate them. There is only one truth, and Jesus is it. And we who would be His people must be bearers of this truth. We are the prophets. But this is no good, either, for it doesn't take much for the world to turn against its prophet.
It's not an easy place to be in. Most of us know this already. We feel acutely the tension of the push and the pull of being the prophet and the priest.
Here, we must look to Jesus.
Jesus lived this tension well. He knew His role as a prophet and was not afraid to speak the hard truth to people. Look at some of the bold language He uses as He speaks with the Pharisees, with the doubters, with the common people. Look at the way He storms into the Temple. He knows that He's been given for the people, the way good prophets always are. He's been given to proclaim to them the truth, to help steer them away from their own wicked paths, to help turn their hearts back toward God.
But He knew also His role as a priest and was generous with mercy. Look at the tender way He interacts with sinners, the gentle touch He uses with the blind men. Look at how He speaks to women, to the unclean, to the outcast. He knows that He's been given to the people, and as such, He must not hesitate to draw near to them. He's been given to mediate their hearts before God, to offer their sacrifices, to make their atonement. To make them clean.
I don't get the impression that Jesus ever forgot either of these things. They are at the forefront of every word He spoke, every action He took, every moment He entered into. In fact, there are a great many scenarios where we see Jesus balancing these roles with seeming ease. In one breath, He is speaking a bold, harsh truth to someone (usually a Pharisee) who needs to hear it, within earshot, of course, of the crowds who need to hear the truth spoken to the Pharisees. And in the very same breath, He is tenderly touching the sinner. It's beautiful.
It's not so effortless in my life. It's not so effortless for most of us. It's hard to strike the right balance between truth and tenderness, between truth and mercy. Between the top of the mountain and the foot of it. Between the prophet and the priest. But I think it's important that we keep trying, that we keep looking to Jesus and doing it a little better every day. Not because it necessarily does something for us to do it better, but because this world needs its prophets and its priests. And ideally, it needs them together - so that the prophet cannot ever be pushed too far away nor the priest ever drawn too close. So that this world cannot corrupt either truth or mercy but must embrace its measure of both.