“Whoever welcomes a prophet in the name of a prophet, will receive a prophet’s reward…” (Matthew 10.40-41)
The world is longing for a word from God. The job of a prophet is to bring it. But in a society grown sceptical of the claims of organized religion generally, the Church specifically, to be the bearers of the Word of God, people are looking for it elsewhere. And they are doing so in a panic.
I’ve mentioned the English intellectual and writer Douglas Murray before. He is, at best, a man in sympathy with the Gospel but unable to believe. The reasons for which are common to most of our cultural elite. Anyway, while he cannot accept the Word of God as it has come down to us through the prophets, through Christ, he is capable of discerning the nature of things, at least in this material world, and in a recent interview rightly identified the true source of the panic as being the complete loss of meaning in our lives, as a society generally, and in the sad case of too many people, the deprivation of coherence in the lives of individuals. As he said, “you could just say life is about making a lot of money and getting a lot of things, but that doesn’t tend to satisfy.”
The scriptures are a little more forthright in judging that kind of life philosophy: money and things are empty, and they will not satisfy.
And that is why our wonderfully rich civilization, wealthy in material terms, cannot salve the wound in our hearts, or calm the present panic. The pandemic, which in objective terms is not the most severe ever experienced, far from it, has put us into a panic.
One, we want it all solved, and there to be absolutely no danger from COVID-19 or any other disease like it. We see being contemplated the complete and permanent abridgement of our rights and freedoms by government in exchange for the promise that we won’t get sick and die. We appeal to our god of Science to save us, even as we’ve come to see it is no god at all—how accurate were the predictions of late? The computer models, how sound were they? How confusing and contradictory the advice? Only now are we seeing a more common sense approach entering in, slowly, in fearful phases, allowed by governors, mayors, and premiers whose anxious faces we have come to see far too often in recent months.
And what this appeal to the mysteries of the laboratory is really about, is the sad fact that most of us can’t face death, we’re not ready. And again, the reason for that is we don’t want to come to the end despairing, “is this all there is?” “what was the point of it all?” Save us now, give us more time to figure it out, there are a few more things to try. We’ve done the consumer lifestyle, let’s play around with being revolutionaries, maybe there’s something in that.
Tapping into our collective religious memory, we are encountering today those who would play on our fear and our longing for meaning. And so the modern day false prophet is one who speaks of justice, fairness, and end to suffering, all if you put your lives into their hands, do as you are told by them, suffer whatever humiliation, cop whatever plea, debase your society, destroy its institutions, pave the way for the utopia they promise.
To be sure, these activists have found something—they’ve hit on what the Church has long known about: original sin, and the fallenness of humanity. But to so many people its like breaking news.
The language seems prophetic, has that ring of the gospel, some of the tone of the Old Testament God in it.
And, as Jesus makes clear to us, we ought to seek out a prophet, welcome him in. Jesus makes it clear that this is important—the reward for doing so as great as if you were a prophet yourself, as if you were some great figure of holiness in your own right. To welcome a true prophet, this pleases God, not for its obedience, but if we remember that God is love, it is because He wants something good to come into our lives, into my life, into your life.
It’s good to have in your life speakers of truth. It is good to have excellent role models.
We must be very wary of charlatans who advertise virtue but are really bound up in vice; we need to listen closely to those who claim to speak truth from out of love for us, when really what they are doing is practicing deceit for their own gain, be it power or wealth.
I’m more than a little disturbed by how many people are taken in by slogans, read into the rhetoric the gospel when if they bothered to look more deeply into the backgrounds of the spokespeople and the movements espousing fundamental societal change, they would find not gospel values, but rather a movement bent on the destruction of family, faith and freedom. Their project might be to realize utopia, but from a Christian perspective, it is dystopia that will result.
Were I to lead a movement and name it “Don’t kick kittens,” you would likely conclude that I am championing the humane treatment of animals, and really nothing more. If anyone is familiar with the radical turn that has occurred in the animal rights movement, you would be aware that it has gone well beyond such a modest aim and pressed onto the ridiculous.
You should investigate such groups to see where the money is spent as in many instances its not to, for example fund shelters for stray dogs and cats, to actually accomplish a good work, but to promote and then impose a broad agenda aimed at radical changes in our society through violence, violation of the rights of others, and political intimidation. Be sure you know what these advocacy groups are about; and know what their methods really are for achieving their goals.
Our Lord wants us to know prophets, be familiar with the righteous, so that we know the genuine from the counterfeit.
There is a place you can start in this seeking out of prophets and finding the righteous, a simple first step that you may have guessed already: read your Bible! In its pages are the archetypes of both heroism and villainy.
Perhaps, also look into the lives of the saints, those heroes and heroines of our Catholic faith and contemplate the qualities that tell us of their saintliness.
When we read the story of Elisha, and in today’s passage from the Second Book of Kings, we have an old woman who recognizes the holiness of Elisha, guesses that he is an authentic prophet. What about him tells us he is a prophet?
Well, prophets can appear a mass of contradiction: they are full of fury and loudly and roundly declare God’s judgment against both kings and commoners; and yet, apart from these moments of great speech-making and prophesying, they are rather quiet and humble, meekness itself. And as we often see them as being harsh in pronouncing their judgment, they also speak of themselves and understand themselves as intercessors—as much as they speak God’s word of judgment, they themselves turn to God and plead our case, they advocate for sinful humanity and try to be the mediator between God and mankind. They don’t want destruction, but reconciliation; a turn toward God and life, not a choosing of the world, the embrace of sin and so its consequence, death.
They have no personal agenda; no agenda apart from what God wills. They aren’t looking for a following. They aren’t founding a movement or heading up a cause. They aren’t interested in power. They don’t turn away disciples necessarily, but neither are they concerned to have them. That is, they speak God’s Word, and trust God, and allow the effect of such proclamation to occur without expectations for themselves. Jesus, in his capacity as prophet, had followers initially numbering in the dozens, then the hundreds, then the thousands, but in the weeks before his passion, the numbers had fallen to the twelve and perhaps a couple of dozen besides, mostly women.
When prophets do deeds of power, they are not to intimidate, to frighten, to bully into submission, but rather to prove to others who it is that stands behind them, who it is they speak for; the effect of them is awe. And it is notable that most prophets exercise restraint, or rather, God restrains them, and gives them the ability to do the miraculous only insofar as God deems it necessary. Miracles and deeds of power more often than not were small, personal, as when Elisha kept a widow and her son from starving through the miracle of the jars of oil and grain. He promised an old couple a son, and one was born to them. However, he also did great miracles, such as cleansing the foul water of Jericho that was poisoning its inhabitants. Like our Lord, the deeds of power established who he was, but also could be seen as acts of compassionate care to which we are called to do although in less miraculous fashion.
The world is a troubled place, and filled with moral hazards; humanity is fallen, and we are morally feeble. We are understandably drawn to those who exhibit power, and who promise deliverance from our difficulties. We want someone to provide us with answers, and give us simple, easy solutions all couched in a language that assures us that by obedience to them, we will be made righteous and good and so, be redeemed.
It’s not that easy. The struggle for righteousness begins with each one of us taking up the cross, and in our own lives crucifying sin so as to be raised to life in Christ. It can be a painful internal exercise, a lonely, personal struggle at times. Yet through it, you are made ready to for the kingdom, and by it you build it up in this world, and so offer a witness for others of the saving power of God’s word; the words of the prophets, and the Word incarnate, Jesus Christ.