Historically, mysticism was often seen as the opposite of prophecy. There was the prophetic strain, which was working for social justice, making a difference, solving problems, fixing the world, and bringing about the Kingdom of God. Then there were these other “mystified” people who locked themselves in hermitages and monasteries and didn’t care much about the suffering of the world. This would be the priestly strain of theology. Now we know that was a radical misunderstanding from both sides.
When we read the prophets, we see that without exception they talk about an intimate and loving relationship with Yahweh that led to radical social critique. Jeremiah talks about a love that “seduces him and that lets him be seduced” (Jeremiah 20:7). The normal language of the prophets Amos and Hosea is an intimate language of divine encounter that always overspills into social concerns. They blast a common understanding of Judaism and temple worship which puts them in direct tension with the priestly class. It seemed to lead to the “murdering” of the prophets according to Jesus (Matthew 23:31-35).
In the Jewish Scriptures—the priests are invariably competing with the prophets and the prophets are critiquing the priests—and this tells me it must be a necessary and creative tension. Maybe both sides get refined because of it. Today, however, we have mostly priestly concerns, or as Jeremiah put it, “the sanctuary, the sanctuary, the sanctuary” (Jeremiah 7:4), and little concern for immigrants, health care for the poor, earth care, or even minimal peacemaking. The patterns never seem to change, since the “priests” control the home front and the “prophets” invariably work at the edges.