Spiritual fruit or religious nuts? – Wednesday, 12th week in ordinary time – Mt 7:15-20
We are now at what is the conclusion of the first of Matthew’s five discourses found in the gospel. Until now, Jesus has been preaching the Sermon on the Mount to the disciples; to His inner circle. Now towards the end we hear that large crowds are listening to Him and are ‘astounded at His teachings.’ As He winds down His discourse, Jesus warns His hearers to be cautious, not only of the ‘hypocrites’ within Judaism, but also those within His following.
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 charismatic leaders that this passage is aimed at.
To erroneously assume that the gospel of Matthew is anti-charismatic (not to be confused with the renewal) would do the gospel great injustice. Matthew simply wants to regulate the abuse of prophecy by some leaders. This is applicable even today to those who have gifts, and in particular, the gift of prophecy. This abuse stands even more condemnable when those who don’t have such gifts, claim it for financial or personal gain.
So what’s the test? How do we know if someone is truly prophesying? Jesus does not want us to be caught up by mere flashes in the pan. It would be foolish on our part if we look with awe to those who have spectacular gifts; which unfortunately is the case. It is not the gift of healing or prophecy or speaking in tongues, but rather the ‘fruit’ or the manner of life that matters. The true test is seen in lived faith and ethical conduct.
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