Speaking God’s word and not our will – Wednesday, 12th Week in ordinary time – Matthew 7:15-20
Do not judge a book by its cover is a maxim we wished we often took seriously. So often, we have been taken in by what seems attractive and interesting from the outside only to realise that all that glitters is not gold. Jesus seems to subscribe to this belief when it comes to the Christian preacher and teacher.
When Matthew was piecing together the Sermon on the Mount, his community of followers faced excommunication from the Jews as well as a threat from false teachers within the community. These ‘false prophets,’ whom he makes reference to again in 7:22; 24:5, 24 are perhaps apostate Christian leaders who have great charismatic gifts of prophecy; a gift that was perhaps being used to mislead people. It is these leaders, who have appropriated the tile of ‘prophets,’ that this passage is aimed at.
Jesus did not ask his disciples to condemn these ‘false prophets’ for he has clearly asked us not to judge; but Our Lord certainly asks us to be cautious in our approach to such men and women when he uses the word ‘beware’. Too many of the faithful are led astray because they have not done due diligence in matters of the faith and have been swept away by a whim and a fancy.
Look for the results of the Holy Spirit in their lives says Jesus; look at their fruits. While the immediate reaction of the reader would be to begin associating this text with a priest or a religious or some charismatic preacher, the same yard stick must be applied to every baptised who by virtue of his or her baptism is a prophet, priest and king. If our lives were to evaluated as children of God, would fruit be found in our lives or would there be only leaves? Would our lives match the faith we profess?
Having said that, this text must also be applied in greater measure to those of us who hold and teach the Catholic faith, especially those in leadership role. Do we walk the talk? Is our life incongruous with the words we preach. Those who profess the faith as teachers must reflect that very faith in the manner of their living. While no one is perfect, stiving to that perfection of Our Lord in a spirit of humility, is what we ought to see. An arrogant priest does not reflect the heart of the good shepherd.
While the manner of life is important, one also should pay attention to the content of the teaching. This is something that has been watered down time and time again by populist teachers and those who work for monetary gain. Preachers of the prosperity Gospel are known to have an eye on your wallet rather than their eyes on God. While a labourer deserves his wages he is not entitled to a personal private jet at the expense of his congregants.
Even more, the Gospel is in danger when it is watered down to please the itchy ears of congregants who ‘pay’ to hear a version of the Gospel that keeps them comforted, permitting them to carry on living a life of immoral behaviour while yet sitting in the pew on a Sunday with a comforted conscience; thanks, in large measure to the preacher.
Finally, one ought to pay attention to the effect of the teaching of preachers. When Christ is proclaimed, it touches the lives of those who listen. True faith is not a flash in the pan nor a good feeling after a Sunday homily. An effective preacher is not one who focuses on the manner and style of speaking but whose words cut through the heart bringing about conversion. A preacher who drives men and women to the confessional is the one who has the heart of God.