The 6th Sunday in Ordinary Time
First Reading: Jeremiah 17:5-8
Responsorial Psalm: Psalm 1:1-4, 6
Second Reading: St. Paul’s 1st Letter to the Corinthians 15:12, 16-20
Gospel: According to St. Luke 6:17, 20-26
There is a beautiful symmetry in this weekend’s readings such that the first line of the first reading from the prophet Jeremiah and the last line from the selection from Luke’s Gospel send a pretty clear message of the difference between a true and a false prophet, or who should be trusted and who should not.
The passage from Jeremiah opens with the words, “Thus says the Lord, ‘Cursed is the one who trusts in human beings.’” It is apparent not only from the context of the passage, but from the context of the entire book, that the Lord – speaking through Jeremiah – is not warning against trusting your mom or your best friend. He is warning against trusting in the powers of this world, and therefore trusting in political and military power.
The opening lines of the Introduction to the Book of Jeremiah that appears on the website of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops state: “The Book of Jeremiah...portrays a nation in crisis and introduces the reader to an extraordinary person whom the Lord called to prophesy under the trying circumstances of the final days of the kingdom of Judah.”
The job of a prophet is to read the “signs of the times” and to proclaim the Word of God in light of those signs. No biblical prophet ever read the signs of the times and proclaimed “trust those in political power” or “rely on military might”. Anyone who did make such a proclamation was no mouthpiece of the God of Abraham, of Isaac, and of Jacob.
At the other end of the readings for this Sunday, Luke quotes Jesus’ discourse during what is commonly called the Sermon on the Plain (with its counterpart, the Sermon on the Mount appearing in Matthew’s Gospel). The final words of Jesus in this section of the sermon (to be continued next Sunday) are quite fitting:
“Woe to you when all speak well of you, for their ancestors treated the false prophets in this way.”
Considering how he was treated, Jeremiah most certainly was not a false prophet. As the Bishops’ Introduction states, “Arrest, imprisonment, and public disgrace were his lot.” But one can imagine that Jesus had another true prophet in mind besides Jeremiah: His cousin John – killed by Herod for, as they like to say today, speaking truth to power.
Every epoch in the history of human civilization has needed prophets, and so it would be a bit hyperbolic to state that “we need prophets now more than ever.” So at the price of being hyperbolic: We need prophets now more than ever.
It is also the case that every epoch has had false prophets, and the ability to distinguish between a false and a true prophet has always been difficult, and so it would be a bit hyperbolic to state that “it is harder now than ever before to distinguish between a false and a true prophet.” So at the price of again being hyperbolic: It is harder now than ever before to distinguish between false and true prophets.
So where are the true prophets and how will we recognize them? They are not those who are loved by the world, who are invited to the best gatherings, who are honored in the media and proclaimed as good by those with political/economic power and their “useful idiots” (as Stalin might say – and as one of the great false prophets he would know). According to Jesus in the Sermon on the Plain, we will find true prophets among those who are hated, and excluded and insulted, and whose names are denounced as evil “on account of the Son of Man.” And that is the critical and only relevant criterion: on account of the Son of Man.