April 19, 2013
Dear brothers and sisters,
I am taking the good news today from Mark 13:5-6 and 21-23.
Jesus began to say to them, “See that no one deceives you. Many will come in my name saying, ‘I am he,’ and they will deceive many….If anyone says to you then, ‘Look, here is the Messiah! Look, there he is!’ do not believe it. False messiahs and false prophets will arise and will perform signs and wonders in order to mislead, if that were possible, the elect. Be watchful! I have told it all to you beforehand.”
There will always be people who take advantage of others, making untrue claims that pander to people’s yearnings or desperate longings. Some want to cheat the unwary, the trusting, of their money or possessions. Others want to lead astray, to inveigle the gullible into swallowing their delusional beliefs. Jesus warned against those who do it particularly in his name, twisting his teachings for their own purposes. The Church has often labeled these people heretics, though sometimes it’s been unable to discern truth from heresy.
The difficulty in discerning truth from heresy is that there is usually a kernel of truth in false beliefs. The logical extension made, however, is faulty or corrupt. Barclay points out, “Heresy arises from trying to produce a religion which will suit people, one which will be popular and attractive.” Often, one or more verses from the Greek Bible is quoted, used as the kernel of truth. The heresy can arise from over focusing on one point without consideration of the whole of God’s word. To me we see this at work today in the huge popularity of those who preach the prosperity gospel. It’s the will of God for us to be financially blessed. People eat it up!
The whole of God’s word needs to be understood and considered. To do less is to corrupt it and to undermine His will. It’s interesting that Jesus chose twelve. He didn’t choose one to carry on in his name after his death. No one of his apostles, not even Peter, could assume the mantle of messiah. Likewise, the Church decided to include the three synoptic gospels in the canon, not just one. Each remembers Jesus’ words slightly differently; each includes stories the others omit; each has its own particular point of view of the good news. No one has the mind of God. It takes many through study, reflection, discussion, and prayer to edge closer to God’s truth. Beware those who claim to have the whole truth, the only truth. Those are false messiahs and prophets.
We have an individual responsibility to seek the truth, but we have an equal responsibility to share in the collective search as part of a community of believers. We have each been given gifts to be used for the good of the whole, for the discernment of God’s will, and for the correct tenets of living our faith. It’s not easy, but I think that’s the point. God wants us to work continuously and together to know and submit to His will, to receive and give His love, to establish His kingdom on earth. That is the richness of life that God wants for us. Anything else is a deception.