Jesus said to his disciples: “Beware of false prophets who come to you disguised as sheep but underneath are ravenous wolves. You will be able to tell them by their fruits. Can people pick grapes from thorns, or figs from thistles? In the same way, a sound tree produces good fruit but a rotten tree bad fruit. A sound tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor a rotten tree bear good fruit. Any tree that does not produce good fruit is cut down and thrown on the fire. I repeat, you will be able to tell them by their fruits.
Usually when we read and reflect on this reading, we imagine false prophets to be someone who comes claiming to be sent by God to teach us the error of our ways. True, but that is not what Jesus is warning us about today.
Jesus is speaking to his disciples who inherited the mantle of the shepherd from him. He is warning them about those who come to them disguised as one of their sheep. We are therefore to be aware not of those who come from outside, but those who are already present in our midst, in our churches, where they are sowing seeds of discord by the way they live and the words they speak.
A prophet is one who speaks for God, who is the truth. A false prophet is therefore one who speaks lies. Today, who are the false prophets? The false prophets are the ones who offend against truth. They are those who lie or slander others; they are those who destroy the reputation of others; they are those who flatter or adulate others; they are those who brag or boast about themselves. Even those who enjoy speaking words of irony aimed at disparaging someone by maliciously caricaturing some aspect of his behaviour are considered as offending against the truth.
However, it must be noted that as true prophets, we do not need to tell the truth about another person to the whole world if it means that the person’s reputation will be harmed in the process, for reputation and honour are the social witnesses given to human dignity, and which everyone enjoys a natural right to.
Neither does it mean that we should go out and tell the truth that is hidden in secrets entrusted to us. To be truthful entails honesty and discretion - to express what ought to be expressed, and to keep secret what ought to be kept secret.
One of the things that ought to be kept secret are the sins of another person. We don’t go around telling the whole world of another person’s sins because that is an uncharitable act. Even if we are telling the truth, it is still an offense against truth, because not all truth must be “shouted from the rooftops”. On the other hand, what must be “shouted from the rooftops” is Good News. Truth that is Good News must be proclaimed to the world.
The golden rule that helps us to discern, in concrete situations, whether or not it would be appropriate to reveal the truth to someone who asks for it. That golden rule, in case you’re wondering what it is, is: treat others as you would like to be treated.
Dear Jesus, we offer our prayers for all who are in the business of spreading truth. May they be discerning enough, with the guidance and wisdom of your Holy Spirit, to spread the Good News and keep secret the bad news which would harm people if told to the world. Amen.
Give Thanks to the Lord for: True prophets.
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