Just Follow Jesus!
Forget Priesthood, no Biblical Base!

James Kottoor

It is categorically said: “The prime reason for all problems in the Catholic Church is the domination of priesthood which is unchristian and unnecessary.” I read it in a blog. There can’t be much disagreement on this from knowledgeable people while it may sound shocking to blind believers led by the principle: "Pray, pay and obey”.

What is more fundamental, I think, is the ignorance of many that Jesus was a lay man through and through and never a priest. He never spoke of himself or his disciples as priests and ordained none. Nay priesthood or a priestly class taking over after him has never been even in the imagination or thought horizon of Jesus.  Every time he spoke he was referring to the Jewish priestly class whom he detested. To Him it appears, priesthood was like a red rag, teasing a mild bull to go wild.So according to the findings of many scripture scholars there is no biblical basis for the priesthood we have.

Ignorance about it by no means is  culpable on the part of many even in this era of Knowledge where development of doctrine spoken of by Cardinal Newman is happening too fast to catch up with, while it is culpable, on the part of too many among the clergy who stop reading and studying with their ordination thinking ordination makes them  heir to all knowledge, heavenly and earthly, ex opere operato  (by the power of that sacrament) not knowing that all sacraments in the church themselves are manmade.

Those who know it, among the clergy don’t speak it out loudly for two reasons: 1. Not to scandalize the majority of the simple folk who look up to them as men of God, or other Christs; 2. For fear they would be cutting the branch of the Hierarchical Priesthood on which they are happily perching now, only to cause a deadly crash landing, yes, only to lose all their assumed importance, superiority, holiness, power, position etc. all of which would be catastrophic to think of. So they just don’t rock the boat saying: Let the flood come after our time.   Like the officer in the gospel they say: “To beg I am ashamed, to work I am not ready and prepared,” and so they just go on to survive as best they can for the rest of their lives.

Once upon a time I too was one of the majority who honestly thought there was a divinely ordained priesthood and became one, but not any more.  So for believers in the divine origin, it is perfectly right to call me “a renegade from the priesthood”. But for me, I can never think of having left it because there was none to leave from. If there is no room to get in, how can you get out of it? “You are not writing now, what you wrote in Young India” Gandhiji used to be told and his answer was: “Yes, true, I am a mountain climber, and as I climb higher and higher my horizon widens which forces me to change my narrow vision.”  So “Change alone is the unchanging law of nature,” the essence of Gita tells all of us, especially in this fast changing world of instant communication.

Some Cogent Reasons

Just a few cogent reasons to say that there is no biblical basis for Catholic priesthood. Was there any other man in history other than Jesus who was so violent and bitter in his criticism of the priestly class? Yet if he became a priest he should have been like the Americans whose philosophy is: “If you can’t beat them join them!” To take a peep through Jesus’ eye, just read Chapter 23 of Mathew which the priestly class wish never existed. Is it not the perfect example of the bitterest verbal attack against the highly placed and sacred in common belief and worse bordering on the abusive?

Think of the litany of woes: “You whitewashed sepulchres, you brood of vipers” etc. Will any one  in his right senses dare  use such scathing  language against the high priests of today starting with the Pope (His holiness for some and blasphemy for others) down to the lately ordained  youngster(Reverend) without being taken to court for criminal code of conduct? More than one occasion I was forced to write: “If only Jesus had kept his blessed mouth shut, he would have lived a thousand years,” according to our way of thinking today.

Recall  the parable of the Good Samaritan.  What is its message if not: “Never follow the footsteps of the priest and the Levite but imitate rather the Good Samaritan who showed compassion and took care of the man wounded, robed and left to die on the road?” Who are those outcasts today if not those whom we look down upon, people like Pulayas and Parayas, also  unbelievers, atheists and comrades who could be  the first to come to the aid of someone in need? No wonder the Son of Man says at the last judgment: “When you have done it to these little ones you did it to me.”

Jesus never built any churches or temples. He never went to the temple to pray or offer sacrifice, but to teach and drive out the buyers and sellers there who made it a den of thieves. Didn’t Jesus, whom we proclaim as role model of non-violence go berserk and wild with whip in hand overturning cash tables (not violence?) and chasing out the whole lot? Was he possibly following the Indian dictum: Samam, Danam, Bhedam, and Dennam?

>Sweet or Bitter Jesus?

There is of course the image of Him: “Sweet Jesus meek and mild” the one most of us would love to cherish and exhibit. But there is also the other:”The bitter Jesus, rough, wild and brutal” as true as the former. Both have to be given due place. And recall to mind his disciples pointing to the huge stones used to build the great edifice of the Jerusalem Temple saying: “How big they are!” and Jesus retorting crying over the temple: “Not a stone upon a stone will be left,” as if predicting also the future of all such temples to be built by those busy with “Palli Krishi” to reap a dollar harvest.

Near allied are the ideas and lessons he taught at Jacob’s well talking to the Samaritan woman. When Jesus touched on that delicate sore spot of her eight husbands, to wriggle out and divert attention she asked furtively: “Where do you people pray: on this mountain or that… etc.” and his  blunt reply to  her was: “Not on this temple or that but in spirit and truth in the cave of one’s own heart,” meaning that one has to pray within closed doors in silence to the Spirit enshrined in one’s own soul, unlike the pagans do repeating with lips meaningless set formulae or  pious platitudesto make others see. He was initiating a completely new form of prayer and worship which consists in listening to God speaking to prepare oneself to accept his designs for them, not telling God what he doesn’t know or should do. He was starting a new community which had no interest in cultic practices.

And we know Jesus prayed often on mountain tops in solitude and silence in contrast to our publicized Sunday services led by priests in glittering robes and people seated in air conditioned cosy comfort as in a theatre to the accompaniment of modern musical instruments and choir, as if God in heaven has to be entertained and coaxed to listen to our petitions. We call that repetition of his sacrifice on Calvary but painless. We call it his last supper but without the central humbling foot washing ministry demanding service and self sacrifice.

Jesus Opposed Sacrifice

Jesus was never a man promoting the practice of sacrifice or offerings in cash and kind to placate an angry God. Like the prophets before him he was dead against it saying: Mercy, compassion and reconciliation, not sacrifice, bloody or not. To illustrate it he recounted what one should do at the altar of sacrifice, if he remembers some one has a grudge against him. He should leave the sacrifice at the altar and go first to get reconciled to such a person.

The last supper is referred to as the official institution of the sacrifice of the Mass. Central to the last supper was, first the washing of the feet of his disciples (service and self-emptying) and second, table fellowship of eating and drinking from the same plate and cup highlighting unity, fellow ship and equality. With the foot-washing ministry where the First becomes Last, Jesus turned upside down the very concept of a pyramidal hierarchical priesthood of the old testament and did away with it at one shot against which Peter rebelled and remonstrated saying: “I don’t understand” and Jesus replying: “You will understand later.” How slow is he to understand even today after twenty centuries?

Peter chose to die upside down on the cross to demonstrate his unworthiness to be like his master. Peters today go on proclaiming themselves as the top Worthies, Infallible Rulers and Emperors of heaven and earth in utter contrast to the conduct of the Son of man who ran away when an admiring crowd wanted to make him king and objected sternly when someone called him “Good Master” because God alone is good and we including him are just brothers, sisters and friends only – not His Holiness, His Beatitude, His Eminence, His Grace, His Excellency, His Lordship, Reverend, Very Reverend, Most Reverend, Right Reverend --- all wrong Reverends in His sight.

>Call a Spade a Spade

If they continue to revel in such feel-good, electrifying, flattering heavenly appellations and trot around the globe, it is also partly because there is no dearth of unthinking crowds ready to kneel, fawn, prostrate and even kiss their shoes to get photo opportunities with them which for them are the ultimate experience of heavenly bliss here below. It was against all this Bishop Alex Dias of Port Blair wrote during last Lent calling for the urgent need of new Pauls to oppose the present day Peters and administering the bitter Damascus experience of toppling them off the horse back to help open the eyes of arrogant, self-conceited Sauls to lend a willing, repentant ear to the plea of the Lord: “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me.”

On another occasion long ago I wrote a piece blaming “We the people of God” for being slavishly ready to dance to the tune of church men without questioning and failing to call a spade a spade for the present sorry state of things. How can there be Generals without a dumb army to do their bidding? To bring them down from their self assumed high thrones the faithful should start calling these self proclaimed heavenly worthies: Mr. Pope Benedict, Mr. Cardinal, Mr. Archbishop, Mr. Bishop, Mr. Priest, just as we address Mr. President Obama, supposed to be the most highly placed worldly ruler today.

Let the People of God – you and me -- start administering this medicine of mercy to help open their eyes to the naked truth of the equality and fraternity of all humans before God? In short according to Professor Herbert Haag of the Catholic Universities of Tuebingen and Lucerne reported elsewhere, the New Testament does not recognize any priesthood, whether sacramental or universal; the Church of the first three centuries did not know either the concept or the reality of a ‘clergy’, all ministries were the creation of the Church. None can be traced back to Jesus, not even that of the bishop, and least of all that of the priest.

I stop for fear of teasing the patience of you my readers beyond limit. You are welcome to consider what is written above as views of just one man or many. But for your kind information there are any number of scientifically documented articles on the subject including the latest one: “Clergy-Laity Divide in the Church” in New Leader, July/12, Chennai, by Fr. Joseph Mattam sj, founder of Gujarat Jesuit Theologate and its Dean for many years, emeritus professor of systematic Theology, writer of books and a regular invitee to lecture to various theological centres in Europe and America. 

Today JESUS has become a painted and embellished doll marketed by various churches to reap maximum profit not knowing that adorning him to get adored only diminishes his original sheen, appeal and market value for the whole world. Hence the cry: “Forget the churches, follow Jesus.” But how much better it would be if the Catholic Church which claims to be the mother of all churches also is helped to project Jesus in His unadorned, bewitching simplicity and heavenly beauty through a simple brotherly life style without a clergy and laity divide, for the benefit of the whole world.

The writer can be contacted at: jkottoor@asianetindia.com