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Week after Epiphany

Jn. 3:22-4:6 & Mt. 4:12-17, 23-25

“There are many false prophets, now in the world.” This was John’s warning to Christians of his own time, and it is still true today. People are searching for meaning and guidance in their lives and there is no shortage of “experts” who will try to show them the supposed way. Today’s prophets are subtle, persuasive and offer easy solutions. They know how to use modern communication techniques and manipulate the media.

Religious sects of one kind or another are springing up all over the world. When people become disenchanted with the Church, perhaps feeling misunderstood or unappreciated, these sects are quick to offer an alternative. They seem to have all the answers to life’s problems, attractively packaged in a warm welcome and companionship. That packaging is very appealing, and can inspire fanatical devotion and loyalty, but it conceals teaching which is essentially false.

False prophets can enter our lives through the newspapers we read and the television programmers we watch every day. Advertisers promote consumerism as the way to happiness, trying to convince us that in order to find fulfilment we only need to buy a different car, shampoo or teabag. Children are an easy target, and they are encouraged to demand bigger and better toys from their parents. New age cults promise success in life through the study of runes or crystals. Television soap opera and films can be a powerful tool in the hands of false prophets, prompting a lifestyle which is often totally immoral as normal and desirable. Somehow, the serious sins of adultery, fornication, dishonesty or ruthlessness are made to seem more acceptable in our favourite characters from Coronation Street and Eastenders.

In these unannounced but insidious ways the false prophets do their work. As John says, they speak the language of the world and the world listens to them because it desperately needs to believe in something. How is it possible to distinguish the false from the genuine? John gives the answer, “Every spirit which acknowledges that Jesus the Christ has come in the flesh is from God.” Isaiah, God’s true prophet, foretold the dawning of a great light which would make everything clear to those who were in the dark. Today’s Gospel shows that Jesus is that light. He is the touchstone against which all prophets must be tested. Those who do not acknowledge Jesus are false prophets.

Acknowledging Jesus means accepting Him wholeheartedly. Not only must we believe that He is God’s Son, we must also follow His teaching. It was Peter who recognized that there is no alternative to Jesus. “Lord, to whom shall we go?” he said. “You have the message of eternal life.” Jesus entrusted to Peter and to His Church the task of spreading that message of life and light. Jesus is the truth, and as long as we follow the way He has shown us, the false prophets in the world will never lure us to destruction.

Dear Jesus, we believe that You are the Way, the Truth and the Life. In following You we will never walk in the dark or be led astray.

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