True and False Prophets

Beware false prophets…By their fruits you will know them. (Matthew 7:15-16)

A week from Sunday we will have to talk more extensively about this metaphor which the Lord uses over and over again, namely: agricultural production. The truth, union with God, trustworthiness—all are judged according to standard of “fruitfulness”–the bearing of good results, results befitting the divine kingdom.

So we will have to come back to that, the ‘fruitfulness’ analogy. A week from Sunday. For now, let’s focus on this: False prophets do come, who look like sweet little sheep, but actually they raven like wolves.

Passion Caviezel teachingThe history of ancient Israel ran with false prophets. At important turning points, the battle grew especially pitched–the battle between true and false prophets of the Lord.

In both the northern and southern kingdoms, false prophets preached comfort and accommodation, even when the people compromised with paganism and effectively abandoned the religion of Israel.

Elijah and Jeremiah both suffered at the hands of false prophets and their palace intrigues. The false prophets ravened like wolves after prestige, after royal favor, and—above all—they ravened after a false and easy peace in which to bask.

The true prophets, on the other hand, declared: We are not in the right. We have betrayed the Lord. If we don’t repent and turn back to Him, the sword of foreigners will beset us, and we will lose everything.

Maybe things look good now. But that does not mean they are good. We have to love God with all we have. If we do, then, no matter what happens to us, we will still have the most important thing, namely our covenant with Him. But if we coast along on the surface and ignore the corruption that has invaded our souls, we will lose even the surface prosperity that we now have.

By their fruits you will know them. The false prophets preached happy-happy-no-problems. Then the Assyrians came. Then the Babylonians came.

On the other hand, the true prophets preached repentance and reconciliation with God. When the people listened, real peace came. Jonah warned the Ninevites. They listened, and the Lord stayed His wrath. Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel gave the exiled Israelites a vision of faithful service to God, a picture of a roadway back to the Promised Land of His love. The people believed and followed.

So the Lord Jesus referred to all this history and more when He drew His distinction between true and false prophets. He was drawing the Sermon on the Mount to a close.

The doctrine of Christ requires a lot of us. But the alternative is to listen to shallow advice from self-serving glamor-seekers. Their advice might make us comfortable for the moment. But it leads to ruin in the long run.

Listening to Christ means short-term sacrifice and long-term glory.

Red Heifer Khok/Prefigurement

You are like unseen graves over which people unknowingly walk. (Luke 11:44)

The Lord Jesus imprecated the hypocritical Pharisees with this mysterious insult. What exactly does it signify?

Under the Old Covenant, the Lord had divided the world into three sectors: the holy zone, the clean zone, and the unclean zone. The People of God occupied the clean land surrounding the Holy Temple. Outside: Gentile, unclean.

God has revealed Himself as the Giver of Life. Holy = living—fully eternally, vigorously living. Clean = animated by this holiness, the undying vigor that comes from God. Unclean = tending toward death.

No one and nothing unclean could have a part in any sacred ceremony. In other words, when the living touched the Source of Life, nothing pertaining to death could vitiate the communion.

One of the ways in which an Israelite would be rendered unclean would be to touch a corpse, or even a grave.

The Old Law included a provision for the purification of an Israelite rendered unclean by contact with a corpse. The procedure is an example of what the rabbis called khok, that is, a law with no apparent rational logic, which must therefore be of direct divine institution.

A perfectly pure red heifer would be slaughtered outside the city. The carcass would be burned, along with cedar wood, hyssop, and scarlet yarn. The ashes were put into a container of spring water. Anyone who had touched death could be purified by that water.

In order to maintain the purity of the water, children who had been born and reared in an area of Jerusalem known to be free of graves had to carry the water in stone bowls, sitting on top of wooden slabs placed on the backs of oxen. They traversed the Kidron Valley on an elevated causeway so as to avoid stepping on any of the graves there.

In other words: NO STEPPING ON GRAVES!!!! EVER!!!!!!!!!!

What the rabbis called khokim—laws with no reasonable explanation—we call prefigurements. Yes, these laws (which have now passed out of effect) do, in fact, make sense: they provide us with insight into the mystery of Christ.

The red heifer prefigures Christ, Who also endured His sacrificial death outside the gates of Jerusalem. His death inaugurated the sacrament of Holy Baptism, the cleansing water that frees us from eternal death.

When the Lord insulted the deluded, self-serving Pharisees, He did not just accuse them of being unclean themselves. He called them a source of uncleanness, called them hidden corpses that contaminate other Israelites without their even knowing it.

By saying this, Jesus helped us to understand the true meaning of the Old Covenant system.

The division of the cosmos into holy, clean, and unclean is fundamentally real. But the zones are not primarily in the physical world; they are found in our own souls.

We touch the unseen holy by sincere prayer, by truthfulness, by careful examinations of conscience. We defile ourselves by lies—above all, by lies we tell ourselves—and by actions that in one way or another crush the life out of ourselves or others.

And we can be purified of this uncleanness by the one, true source of purity and holiness—by Jesus Christ, Whose undying life is ministered to us in the sacraments of the New and everlasting Covenant.

Opening our Ears, Eyes, and Minds

Ephphatha! (“Be opened!”) –Mark 7:34

How does God open our ears, our eyes, our minds to Himself?

It begins with reality, the existence of something rather than nothing. Nothing is what there would be, if God had not made all that is. Boring? Nothingness would be beyond boring. Super Bowl XXXV was boring. Nothingness would be immeasurably worse.

So: Clue Number One which we have received from God about Himself: The fact that anything exists at all.

But this is just the beginning of how God opens our ears, our eyes, our minds to Himself. The existence of reality, made by God—this actually gives rise to a question or two from us. Okay, Creator: You exist. You made everything. You deserve our praise and gratitude for Your magnificent work. Your infinite unseen power and beauty must be the source of all this. But, may we ask, Why? Why make this universe?

And while we are at this: Why make creatures that can do evil? Why make life so precarious? Why allow all the pain and suffering that we see all around us?

We don’t mean any disrespect when we put questions like this to the Almighty. We don’t necessarily expect answers. But the Lord can hardly begrudge us our honest questions. After all, He made us to be curious creatures. We long to know the truth. Which brings us to the next way in which God opens our ears, our eyes, our minds to Himself.

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King Josiah and the Right Perspective

Today in church we read a beautiful episode from the second book of Kings. King Josiah had the Law of Moses read aloud to all the people of Jerusalem, none of whom had heard it before. They kept the Passover properly that year, for the first time in centuries.

This episode inspires us all the more when we consider that King Josiah succeeded King Manasseh, who had fallen so deeply into paganism that he sacrificed his own son on the altar of Moloch and turned the Jerusalem Temple into a pagan shrine. And when we consider that, by this time, all the northern tribes had forgotten about God and the truth. Instead, they worshipped Ba’al and lived for pleasure. Because of this, they had fallen into the hands of the Assyrians and had been taken into exile, never to return.

So the picture of the people of Jerusalem gathered together with the king and priests; the Temple rededicated to the obedient worship of the true God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob; the Passover kept, as Moses commanded—this picture inspires us with a vision of faithfulness and harmony. God’s kingdom at work on earth. May we worship God together, too, with humble love, at peace and living in the truth.

But before we get too maudlin about this beautiful episode from the Old Testament, let’s remember that as this scene unfolded, the prophetess Huldah meanwhile declared that the punishments which the book of Moses promised would indeed be carried out. The people had been unfaithful for many generations, and God’s justice would not be flouted. King Josiah and his contemporaries kept the Passover faithfully in peace. But their children were carried off in chains to Babylon, and Jerusalem was reduced to ruins.

In the world, but not of it. The message of Christ, the grace of Christ, the kingdom of Christ—only from the perspective of Jesus Christ can we understand our role on earth. We want to worship in spirit and truth. But we cannot stand before God in peace if we do not face honestly the problems of our times. All is not as it should be.

Which means we have a job to do: to seek the truth, to stand up for what’s right, to confess our sins, to offer our resources for the good of others. And to hope for heaven.

The good tree bears fruit for heaven. In this world we will have trouble. But Christ has overcome the world.

Full Message of the OT: Niagara Falls

Though the mountains fall away and the hills be shaken,
My love shall never fall away from you
nor my covenant of peace be shaken,
says the LORD, who has mercy on you.
O afflicted one, storm-battered and unconsoled,
I lay your pavements in carnelians, your foundations in sapphires;
I will make your battlements of rubies, your gates of jewels,
and all your walls of precious stones.
All your children shall be taught by the LORD;
great shall be the peace of your children.
In justice shall you be established, far from oppression,
you shall not fear, from destruction, it cannot come near.
If there be an attack, it is not my doing;
whoever attacks shall fall before you. (Isaiah 54)

This is the full passage to which the Lord Jesus refers in our gospel reading today.

Let’s propose the following: The full summary of the Old Testament could be made with one sentence. Thus saith the Lord, “My children, you have made a terrible mess of things, but the infinite power of My tender love is coming your way—in an overwhelming cascade of gentle mercy.”

They shall all be taught by God that He loves, no matter what. The bread that I will give is my Flesh, for the life of the world. Whoever believes has eternal life.

Brothers and sisters, let’s take a trip to the Niagara Falls of Divine Love by celebrating the Mass as the Lamb of God has commanded.

Marcion Meets the Facts

I have not come to abolish the Law, but to fulfill it. (Matthew 5:17)

Who knows the name of the Christian heresy which rejected the Old Testament? This sect had great success for centuries. Indeed, we can say that this particular heresy is alive and well even now.

Also cut-and-pasted his own New Testament
Marcion taught that the Father of Christ is not the God of the Jews. The God of ancient Israel had too much traffic with actual human events, made too many unpredictable demands, and exacted too many bitter punishments.

Marcion produced a corrected and trimmed-down New Testament. It’s god reigns in pure, undisturbed serenity, separate from the affairs of this world—especially from the tumultuous, checkered history of the crazy kosher swarthies from the over-heated province of Palestine.

The Old Testament embarrassed Marcion. But one problem confronted him. The only thing more embarrassing than the Old Testament is the fact that the better part of the New Testament makes no sense without it. So Marcion became the first in a long line of good Christians who cut out a scrapbook of the Bible passages they like, and ignore the rest.

Contemporary Marcionism goes something like this: I believe in the nice God of the New Testament, not the mean god of the Old.

The “nice” God of the New Testament? “You knew I was a hard man. Why didn’t you put the money I gave you in the bank?” “No wedding garment? Out into the darkness with him!” “What will the master do to the faithless tenants? He will put them to a wretched death and burn their cities.” Seems that a certain “nice” Messiah used the word Gehenna at least twelve times in His recorded speeches. The whole Old Testament hardly contains twelve explicit references to hell.

If we want Christ, we are stuck with His being Jewish. If we want to believe in God’s mercy, we are stuck with believing in His exacting justice, too. If we want the God who became man, we can never forget that our ways are not His ways, and that the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom.

Jesus Christ is not our idea. He is a fact. As with all facts, a lot of other facts come along with Him, in a jumbled tumble of actual reality. We cannot pick and choose. Our job is to do our best to be one of the facts that go along with the fact of Christ.

Quick Sacred History Quiz

Your ways, O Lord, make known to me.

We sing this prayer in the Psalm at Mass.

Why do we keep the season of Lent? The Spirit drove the Lord Jesus out into the desert. He fasted and prayed for forty days.

The prophet Elijah walked through the desert for forty days to reach God’s mountain. Jonah gave the Ninevites a forty-day warning of God’s wrath. Moses dwelt in the cloud on Mount Sinai and conversed with the Lord for forty days. When the Lord flooded the earth, it rained for forty days.

Six weeks. Can we learn the ways of God in six weeks? Let’s get started.

In six days, God made the heavens and the earth. On the seventh, He rested. (Maybe if we study His ways hard for six weeks, then on the seventh, we will find rest.)

In the beginning, God made the land and the seas and all they contain. Then what happened? Sin. Disobedience. Estrangement from the Creator. It got ugly. Brother killed brother.

The Lord saw how great the wickedness of human beings was on earth, and how every desire that their heart conceived was always nothing but evil. The Lord regretted making human beings on the earth, and his heart was grieved (Genesis 6:5).

The innocent blood that had been shed cried out from the ground. The good world that God had made needed to be cleansed.

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Completing the Prophets’ Picture

The saints who wrote the four holy gospels had an enormous task, namely to present to us the Person of Jesus Christ, the God-man.

The evangelists’ primary literary means for doing this was to recount the ways in which Christ fulfilled all the prophecies that had foretold His coming.

The prophecies express the beautiful vision of salvation. And yet, the picture does not come fully clear in the Old Testament books. Only when they were fulfilled in Christ did the meaning of the prophecies fully emerge.

The evangelists grasped this, and wrote their books in order to complete the Bible, to make the Old Testament make sense by writing the New.

The vision of the prophets included the healing of the blind and deaf, and many other miraculous works which transcend the fallen state of created nature.

Above all, the prophets foresaw the New Covenant as a whole: the state of reconciliation and friendship between sinners and the Creator, Who had previously been justly offended by sin.

This is why the four evangelists narrate the miracles worked by Christ as a series of preludes, leading up to the miracle of His death and resurrection. Faith in the New Covenant made in Christ’s blood is the ultimate miracle. It is the miracle of the restoration of the original friendship between God and man. This friendship, which we have by faith in Christ, is itself the foundation of all the many other gifts of the Creator, like sight and hearing, knowledge and wisdom.

Jerusalem Council, Maundy Mandate

The Holy Spirit, who the Father will send in My name, will teach you everything. (John 14:26)

These are the words of our Lord Jesus to the Apostles at the Last Supper. He was explaining to them what would happen after He ascended into heaven.

That was the beginning of the Catholic Church.

The Lord Jesus had taught the Apostles many things while He was on the earth. There would be many other things He would teach them from heaven. As He promised, He sent the Holy Spirit to guide His Church.

In the Acts of Apostles, St. Luke recounts the first Church Council. The situation was this: The Apostles had gone out from Jerusalem to preach the Gospel. In the surrounding countries, both Jews and non-Jews came to believe. This left the Apostles with an honest question.

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