“Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but underneath are ravenous wolves. By their fruits you will know them” (Matthew 7:15-16)
What exactly is a false prophet? To answer that question, it is important that we understand what the biblical notion of prophecy is. Sometimes we seem to think that a prophet is someone who can predict the future, someone like Nostradamus. While that is one definition of prophecy, it is not biblical prophecy. Biblical prophets are people who bring the Word of God to bear on the present situation, the situation in which they find themselves. God’s Word informs their response to a particular situation. Sometime, but only sometimes, that includes a warning about the future. So the “false prophet” that Jesus speaks of in today’s Gospel reading is someone who misappropriates God’s Word.
A good example can be found in the first reading for today’s liturgy. We hear the story of how Hilkiah has found a copy of the long lost text of the Sinai covenant. He reads it and realizes that he must inform King Josiah, one of the better kings of the Hebrew Scriptures, of its contents. So he sends a scribe to give the text to the King. When the King reads the scroll, he realizes that Israel has strayed from its covenant relationship with God. So he sends Hilkiah and several others to consult God, by which the sacred writer means that they must consult God’s Word. Upon reading the text together, they determine that the King and they must act to make the children of Israel aware of their disobedience.
Had they been false prophets, they would have told King Josiah that all was well, that things could go on as they had been. However, because they are true prophets, they lead the King and the people in a ceremony of covenant renewal. “By their fruits you will know them.” True prophets are interested in three things: worship of God, care for the poor, and the exercise of justice. Only a true prophet understands that all three are the same thing. God is worshipped when the poor are cared for and justice is preserved.
There are many false prophets roaming the world at the present time. They are leading the people toward gain and division rather than toward the Law of the Lord; namely, loving God and loving our neighbors. There is so much dissension in our midst at the present time. Sin has divided us. The readings today remind us that we need true prophets just as much today as they were needed in days of old.
Fr. Lawrence Jagdfeld, O.F.M., Administrator