How do we spot a false prophet? This seems to be the central question
of today’s readings. It’s a question that seems painfully pertinent after
months of headlines about people murdering innocent strangers because they
don’t follow the same “prophets.”
Clearly such evil religious extremists fall afoul of what
John and Matthew say are the essential signs of true prophecy: love for
other people and service to them.
When Jesus proclaimed his “good news” to the people of Galilee,
he cured the sick and healed “the possessed, the lunatics and the paralyzed.”
Nowhere do we find him trying to bludgeon people into his version of God’s
Kingdom. Unfortunately some who later claimed to follow Him adopted the
tactics of false prophets.
Neither John nor Matthew, however, would be comfortable with the
opposite extreme – some of today’s “feel good” religions which tell their
followers to “do your own thing, it doesn’t really matter what you believe.”
To them, belief in Jesus is central and essential, as John’s passage
so beautifully proclaims.
Two contemporary saints offer excellent models of how to achieve
the difficult combination of fervent belief and loving connection with
those who don’t share it: Pope John XXIII and Mother Teresa. Pope
John reached out in love to the “separated brethren” in other Christian
denominations, Jews and other non-Christians and people of no belief although
his own faith in Jesus and the Church remained absolute. When he died,
the entire world mourned. Mother Teresa served the neediest of the needy
with no concern for their creed but she too adhered to an unyielding belief
in a traditional understanding of Jesus.
With both, love of others and traditional belief were a unity. From
their belief stemmed the goodness and service which exemplify how we ought
to live our lives. Like Pope John and Mother Teresa, we can best
proclaim our faith in Jesus by loving and serving others.