Admonitions regarding false prophets are sprinkled throughout the Bible, but few are as noticeable as the Epistle reading for today, complete with visuals of barfing dogs and clean sows happily hopping into mud puddles. Disgusting as the images may be, they vividly remind us of two things: False prophets really haven’t changed methods much since the dawn of humankind, and we flawed human beings are prone to falling to the same deceptions again and again.
Keep in mind that Peter’s audience is the Christian diaspora in Asia Minor–countercultural people living in cultures not their own. In the verses preceding the reading, the people are warned about false prophets, but are also clear that the threat is not from the outside, but among themselves. “…false prophets also arose among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive opinions.” (2 Peter 2:1)
Human nature is we always look outside, not inside, for danger. We worry about the stranger in the black van with the tinted windows abducting our children, when in reality it’s more often someone the child knows and trusts–and may even be an estranged parent. Our political rhetoric is charged with the threats of people who come from outside borders to wreck our economy and endanger our lives, when in reality our own fears and our own selfishness put our markets on a roller coaster ride and destabilize our safety. We are told by our false prophets of 2020 to blame the Chinese for the pandemic while our own internal refusal as a culture to participate in the simple acts of keeping our distance and covering our faces lengthens the life of the pandemic.
We need to remember that true prophets are measured by their actions more than their words or the intensity of those words, and that sorting true prophecy from false prophecy can be difficult, because as flawed human creatures, we tend to respond most intensely to our deepest emotional needs. The messages we hear around us promising safety or control need to be sifted through our most raw selves in the context of our ongoing relationship with Christ. In short, the messages we hear the loudest are the messages we tend to live.
Our Gospel reading today addresses that very subject, as Jesus tells the people, (and I’m paraphrasing) “If you’re looking for your prophet to come from a royal palace wearing expensive clothes, you’re looking in the wrong place.” The ultimate test between a true prophet and a false one is whether that prophet sides with the poor and marginalized, comforting the afflicted and afflicting the comfortable. The harsh reality is our own human frailties too frequently find comfort and control as the measure of whether our lives are okay or not. Consequently we fall victim to the same siren songs of the false prophets, and, like that sow, find ourselves mired in the mud again and again.
False prophecy always promises an unobtainable bliss and the illusion that we are in control, and sadly, many have used Christianity as the vehicle for that illusory message–that somehow, salvation guarantees that everything is going to be fine. Jesus never promised money, control, or happiness in our lives–in fact, he frequently spoke of the difficulties walking his walk encounters. He did promise, though, that we can experience a peace that transcends whatever suffering we endure. When we can accept that Christ is ever present with us, in good times or bad, we can follow in his footsteps by making the choices in our own lives to speak his true prophecy through our own actions and choices.
What is the false prophecy that trips you up every time and finds you wallowing in the same mud? What needs to change in yourself to avoid that mudhole?
Maria Evans splits her week between being a pathologist and laboratory director in Kirksville, MO, and gratefully serving in the Episcopal Diocese of Missouri , as the Interim Pastor at Christ Episcopal Church, Rolla, MO.