2 Kings 22:8-13; 23:1-3
In today’s Gospel reading, Jesus warns His disciples, "Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but underneath are ravenous wolves." In today’s world, where there are so many voices clamoring for our attention, Jesus’ warning is as relevant as ever. How are we to distinguish between true and false prophets? In our Gospel passage, Jesus does give an answer: "By their fruits you will know them…A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a rotten tree bear good fruit…So by their fruits you will know them."
Jesus’ answer does give us some guidelines and criteria by which to judge all the messages we hear. For example, those who preach and proclaim hatred and violence are easily rejected. But as we listen to the political debates within our government, and the debates even within our church, there seems to be disagreement about which "fruits" are good and which are "bad." For me, this makes it harder to heed Jesus’ warning. How, then, can we discern between false prophets and true ones?
I believe an answer can be found in the Gospel readings we have had for the past several weeks. Chapters 5 through 7 of Matthew’s Gospel make up Jesus’ "Sermon on the Mount." When we listen to this or that evangelist, we can ask ourselves, "Does this lead to being ‘poor in spirit,’ or to making peace, or to reliance on God, or to love of enemies as well as neighbors, or to following the Golden Rule?" For me, I distrust those who seem to promote self-satisfaction or self-aggrandizement. The Gospels consistently call us beyond ourselves. In that light, we need to remember that true discernment takes place in the context of prayer (listening to God) and listening to the wisdom of the faith community passed down to us. In humility, then, we pray for the guidance of the Holy Spirit, and the grace to become true prophets in our world.
Fr. Phil Paxton, C.P. is pastor of St. Mary’s Parish, Fairfield, Alabama.