Jesus said to his disciples, ‘Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will know them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thorns, or figs from thistles? In the same way, every good tree bears good fruit, but the bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a bad tree bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus you will know them by their fruits.’
Beware of false prophets.
What does the word ‘prophet’ mean to you? In the life of the Church, it is a word that is used on many occasions, but do we really understand what it means? We hear readings from the major Old Testament prophets: Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel and Daniel, as well as from the twelve minor prophets, but do we understand their place in God’s plan for this world? If, as I suspect, most of us have only a vague notion of what a ‘prophet’ really is, how can we hope to tell the difference between the real thing and the false prophets Jesus warns us of in today’s reading?
If you look up the word ‘prophet’ in the dictionary you will find a range of definitions. In the Chambers Dictionary there are six. Those definitions seem to be arranged in a descending order of reliability, moving from someone who speaks on behalf of a deity, through the proclaimer of divine messages, an inspired teacher, the spokesperson for a group, movement or doctrine, a foreteller, to a tipster. This list helps us with any uncertainty we might feel about Jesus’ words to us today. A prophet is one who speaks as a messenger between God and humanity. Any claim to being a prophet that does not measure up to this exacting standard is specious and false!
In this world there are many who are heralded as prophets because of their eloquence and personality. They proclaim messages that they claim to be divine; they teach and preach in an ‘inspired’ and inspiring way; they argue in favour of groups, movements and doctrines; they foretell the future; and they assess the odds of how the future might play out. But … it is only those who hear and proclaim the word of God who are the true prophets, the ones to whom we should be paying special attention.
Jesus tells us to beware false prophets. Unfortunately, the false prophets are often the ones who come with the most razzamatazz and glamour. And yet, not matter how slick their presentation may be, they are still the false prophets we are warned against.
I pray that we might hold firm to Jesus’ teaching and listen only to the true prophets, the true messengers of God. I pray that the truths they proclaim might guide the way in which we live out our lives. I pray that we may find the strength God gives us to resist the glitz of the false way, in order that we might live lives of true discipleship.