Biblical prophets are people who bring the Word of God to bear on the present situation, the situation in which they find themselves. God’s Word informs their response to a particular situation. Sometime, but only sometimes, that includes a warning about the future. So the “false prophet” that Jesus speaks of in today’s Gospel reading is someone who misappropriates God’s Word.
A good example can be found in the first reading for today’s liturgy. We hear the story of how Hilkiah has found a copy of the long lost text of the Sinai covenant. He reads it and realizes that he must inform King Josiah, one of the better kings of the Hebrew Scriptures, of its contents. So he sends a scribe to give the text to the King. When the King reads the scroll, he realizes that Israel has strayed from its covenant relationship with God. So he sends Hilkiah and several others to consult God, by which the sacred writer means that they must consult God’s Word. Upon reading the text together, they determine that the King and they must act to make the children of Israel aware of their disobedience.
Had they been false prophets, they would have told King Josiah that all was well, that things could go on as they had been. However, because they are true prophets, they lead the King and the people in a ceremony of covenant renewal. “By their fruits you will know them.” True prophets are interested in three things: worship of God, care for the poor, and the exercise of justice. Only a true prophet understands that all three are the same thing. God is worshipped when the poor are cared for and justice is preserved.
When we read the words of the prophets in the Scriptures today, it is helpful if we remember that we are also called to be prophets; that is to say, that we are called to carry God’s word with us wherever we go and into whatever situation we find ourselves. In order to do that, we must spend time with God’s Word in prayer so that we will be ready when we are called upon to act in God’s name.
Fr. Lawrence Jagdfeld, O.F.M.