THE TEMPTATION TO BE FALSE PROPHETS
SCRIPTURE READINGS: [ JER 26:11-16, 24; MT 14:1-12 ]
As Christians, we are called to protect the truth and to proclaim the message of God. The irony of the situation is that quite often we fail in our duties. The liturgy today invites us to reflect on why we are not true prophets in our lives. What are the reasons for not being faithful to our prophetic role in proclaiming the Word of God? Why is it that instead of following Jeremiah and John the Baptist who were fearless and candid in proclaiming the Word of God, we prefer to speak human words and offer human wisdom to the world?
Firstly, it is because of our pride. We are just like the priests and prophets during the time of Jeremiah, unable to accept advice from someone else, especially if we do not perceive them as having the qualifications or ‘authority’ to teach us. We always think that we know best. We do not and cannot listen.
So instead of listening to what the Spirit is speaking through others, like the religious leaders of Israel, we try to silence them. Sometimes such pride can also make us use our authority to do what is even wrong. In the case of Herod, he agreed to the request of Herodias’ daughter to behead John the Baptist because he had made an oath to give her anything she asked for. We all know very well that such an oath cannot be valid when it is a request to do something evil. Yet, King Herod who was so fearful that his authority and standing might be undermined, carried out the order to behead John the Baptist, not because he was being a man of his word but because of his ego.
Secondly, many of us feel threatened when our selfish interests are being challenged. We want to preserve our status quo. We feel threatened whenever we have to change. Prophets are seldom welcome because listening to them means that we have to change. The religious leaders of Judah were quite satisfied with the status quo, even though they, with the people, had turned their hearts to false gods. So were King Herod and Herodias. They were engaging in an inappropriate relationship and had no desire to live a righteous life. Under threat, we respond by silencing our critics. Indeed, who wants to change in life?
Thirdly, many of us, especially if we are in a position of authority, feel insecure because there is this need to be loved and be popular. All leaders want their subjects and subordinates to love them. So we do everything to please them. This was what happened to the religious leaders of Judah. King Herod did not kill John the Baptist only because he “was afraid of the people who regarded John as a prophet.” He had no principles and operated out of fear and insecurity. This is also so true for us. Quite often we succumb under pressure to give in to the popular demands of our people. We are fearful to do what is right and good.
In contrast, today we have the people of God being faithful to the Word of God. We are told in the first reading that the political leaders of Israel supported Jeremiah against the religious institution of the day only because the people backed them. Similarly, King Herod did not kill John the Baptist earlier because he was afraid of the people. Indeed, even whilst there were some misguided and selfish people among the people of God, there were others who wanted to hear the truth. Upon hearing the prophecy of Jeremiah they wanted to change and reform. They refused to condemn Jeremiah because they knew that what he said was true, even if it did not please them. They were willing to face the painful truth, unlike the religious leaders of the day.
Today, we are invited to be true leaders and prophets of God, always speaking the Word of God courageously without mincing His Word or shortchanging our people. Jeremiah and John the Baptist are exemplars of what it means to be true to our calling. How, then, can we find the strength to remain true to our calling? We must learn from Jeremiah. He was a man who heard the Word of God speaking to his heart. He could proclaim the Word only because he had heard the Word. We cannot proclaim the Word unless we have heard the Word clearly ourselves. If Jeremiah could not do otherwise after hearing the Word, it was because the Word of God was so impressed upon his heart that he could not resist. He said, “his word in my heart is like a fire imprisoned in my bones. I force myself to hold it in, but that is impossible.” (Jer 20:9)
Truly, unless we have a deep love for the Word of God, we will not find that same motivation, conviction and courage to proclaim the truth in our lives. Not only will we come to know the truth by having an intimacy with the Word, but we will also experience consolation and strength as well. That is what the responsorial psalm says, “in your great love, answer me, O God.” Yes, unless we hear the Word of God and meditate upon it, we cannot hear God assuring us of His love and His help. So if we want to find courage and support, especially when we have to speak and live the truth, we must find the strength from the very same Word of God which we proclaim. For the Word of God is not only to guide us in the Truth but it will also uplift us and give us the direction and inspiration we need in order to be faithful to Him.
By our failing to proclaim the Word, we would have been unfaithful to ourselves. Such was the case of King Herod. It was for this reason that he was distressed. He knew that he was doing something seriously wrong and against his conscience. In contrast, Jeremiah, although confronted with the prospect of death, was truly liberated because his conscience was clear. He could warn his accusers in no uncertain terms, “Do whatever you please or think right with me. But be sure of this, that if you put me to death, you will be bringing innocent blood on yourselves, on this city and on its citizens, since the Lord has truly sent me to you to say all these words in your hearing.”
We must be watchful that we proclaim the Word of God in all its power and fullness in and out of season, and not our own ideas. We must be clear that whatever we say is not for our selfish interest but truly for the good of others, even if what we say is unpleasant to their ears. We must love them enough to do what is truly good for them and not shortchange them with easy solutions and false hopes. In this way, we save ourselves and we save them from self-destruction.
Written by The Most Rev William Goh Roman Catholic Archbishop of Singapore © All Rights Reserved
Best Practices for Using the Daily Scripture Reflections
- Encounter God through the spirit of prayer and the scripture by reflecting and praying the Word of God daily. The purpose is to bring you to prayer and to a deeper union with the Lord on the level of the heart.
- Daily reflections when archived will lead many to accumulate all the reflections of the week and pray in one sitting. This will compromise your capacity to enter deeply into the Word of God, as the tendency is to read for knowledge rather than a prayerful reading of the Word for the purpose of developing a personal and affective relationship with the Lord.
- It is more important to pray deeply, not read widely. The current reflections of the day would be more than sufficient for anyone who wants to pray deeply and be led into an intimacy with the Lord.
Note: You may share this reflection with someone. However, please note that reflections are not archived online, nor will they be available via email requests.