I had the good fortune to reflect upon these readings during a vacation to Puerto Vallarta, Mexico. Many of the locals I talked with are saddened by the media's depiction of their country as a categorically unsafe place. Happily I encountered many kind and gentle souls during my trip. But I also encountered several highly motivated individuals eager to engage me in a timeshare purchase transaction. Ravenous wolves in sheep’s clothing so eager to ingratiate themselves to me by offering hospitality and a delicious breakfast if I would just listen to their short presentation.
These encounters personified the false prophets. Generally when I try to heed the warning to beware of the false prophet I remind myself to be cautious around political leaders and church hierarchy and other power brokers. And of course there are many times when such individuals fit the bill. But this seems too easy. It is so much more comfortable to identify the faults of others. The attribution of power, greed, and vanity to another person can help us feel safe. It is easier to diagnose the shortcomings of another than to explore the actions and thoughts and choices of ourselves.
So rather than spending a lot of time smugly identifying the false prophets who are trying to convince me about a public policy stand or an interpretation of church doctrine or get me to buy a week in a shoddy condo, I wonder when am I a false prophet, a ravenous wolf in sheep’s clothing? What are the hungers I am trying to feed? What are my attractions? What are my motivations?
Suddenly it’s not so simple. Reflecting upon my own actions is not an all or nothing game. I’m not wholly evil or wholly marvelous. But sadly I can see how I can be a very skilled false prophet. My desire to be highly thought of kicks in and I can engage someone in gossip which is certain to lift me up at the expense of someone else. It’s a short term win; after such encounters I’m left with an empty, hollow, feeling of regret. Bad fruit indeed.
As I reflect upon the times I have been the ravenous wolf and explore ways to improve, I can feel a bit overwhelmed. Then I remember the simple good news that I do not have to do this alone. In fact when I have tried to forge ahead on my own in isolation from God is when I get off track. Our loving and forgiving God is ready to support me and guide me. I am humbled by the many chances I have been given to get it right. And sometimes I do. The wisdom of the today’s psalms is better than any self improvement book out on the market: Teach me the ways of your decrees, O Lord, Give me discernment, that I may observe your law and keep it with all my heart.
Time to shed the sheep’s clothing and feed the ravenous hunger to love and serve our Lord.