Beware of false prophets!

Al Cariño, OMI
Editor: Mindanao Cross
Reproduced with Permission

33th Sunday in ordinary times

Occasioned by the remarks of some people about the temple which was adorned with costly stones and votive offerings, Jesus told the crowd that the time would come when the temple would be destroyed and "there will not be left a stone upon another stone that will not be thrown down" (Lk. 21: 5–19). When this took place (70 A. D.), a wall was left standing for the Jews to wail at. It still stands today and is used for that purpose.

Then Jesus went on to talk about the end of the world which would be preceded by all kinds of natural and man–made calamities like wars between nations. But before all these would take place, Jesus warned His disciples that false prophets would arise to lead the faithful astray: "Many will come in my name, claiming, 'I am he,' and, 'The time is near.' Do not follow them." Moreover, they would be persecuted, manhandled and dragged into pagan courts "because of my name."

Amidst all these, Jesus asked them to hold on to their faith "for I myself shall give you a wisdom in speaking that all your adversaries will be powerless to resist or refute." He assured them that "By patient endurance you will save your lives." We only have to look at the long list of the martyrs of the Church — past and present — who have borne witness to their faith with their very lives to know that many of Jesus' followers have heeded His words. No material enticements nor sweet promises can dissuade them from their faith in Jesus and His message.

Let us now take a closer look at the false prophets against whom Jesus warned us about. They claim that they can read the "signs of the times" and thus "infallibly" predict to the year, month, day and hour when the end will come. One of the latest of such predictions was made by the leader of a Christian sect in South Korea who predicted that the end would come in October 28, 1992. Because of their fear of the dreaded hour, some of his followers even went to the extent of committing suicide. Obviously, such leaders manipulate the fears of people. And their basis is their literal interpretation of the end of world scenarios found in the Bible, so that when such events take place, they see in them the fulfillment of Jesus' prediction.

True, Luke and the other evangelists, like some prophets in the Old Testament, attribute to Jesus similar statements which are really apocalyptic in nature. But their purpose is to assure the community that those who remain faithful to the end will participate in God's victory, even if the present realities seem to show the powerlessness of God over His enemies. Unlike false prophets who use fear to manipulate people, true shepherds know too much about fear themselves that they never do such a thing. Instead, they promote hope and trust in God specially amidst extremely disturbing conditions.

How come such false prophets pop out now and then from nowhere? For one, there are some people who equate the Word of God with the Bible. Then there are others who assert that all of God's revelations are contained in the Bible. Finally there are those who advocate private interpretation of the Bible. One or all of these may have led them to make "exact predictions" about the end of the world.

The Church does not equate the Word of God with the Bible. Why? Because God's Word came before His written Word. Long before His Word was written down in the Old Testament, God had spoken and revealed Himself in words and deeds to His people as their loving God. And long before any word of the New Testament was written down, God the Father had already revealed Himself to us in words and deeds, specially in the redemptive passion, death and resurrection of His Son Jesus Christ. In short, the Word of God preceded the Bible, and is contained in the Bible but is not limited to the Bible.

Moreover, the Church never advocates private interpretation of the Bible. In understanding the Word of God, aside from the Bible, the Church makes use of Tradition and Magisterium — her teaching authority. Tradition comprises the practices, beliefs and life of the Church over the centuries and her continuing growth in the understanding of the gifts and actions of God among peoples and in the world while the magisterium is the teaching authority of the Church. This is ordinarily exercised by the Pope. At times, exercising his authority as Supreme Teacher, he defines some points of faith and morals as divinely revealed and which he requires all the Catholic faithful to accept and believe.

To be shielded from false prophets in our own day, it is imperative that we must know and hold on to what the Church presents for our belief and practice. Otherwise, we will become easy preys to false prophets.