The readings today are a problem for any preacher. We have an Old Testament reading about prophets and false prophets, a letter from St. Paul about food offered to idols, and a Gospel story about an exorcism. There would seem to be no discernible common theme. So how should a preacher proceed? Well, the best this preacher can do is to say a few words about each of the readings and then try to persuade you that each reading is, in fact, a divine guide to watching cable news!
Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, my strength and my redeemer.
The readings today are thematically disjoint, as is often the case during the liturgical green seasons. So, perhaps the best approach to today’s readings is to look at each, one by one, to see what they have to say to us here today.
The reading from Deuteronomy is simple, and its meaning is straightforward: After the death of Moses, God will continue to guide his people by sending them prophets. But as the reading makes clear, there is a problem: some self-proclaimed prophets will, in fact, be false prophets. How then are we to tell the difference between the true and the false? Well, one criterion is given in the reading itself, namely, that a true prophet will speak only in the name of the one true God. The next two verses in Deuteronomy give another criterion, and it’s a shame that the lectionary doesn’t include them in today’s lesson. The second criterion is that what the prophet predicts should prove true. Consequently, this means that a prophet can only be known to be a true prophet after the fact. Any new prophet would be a sort of probationer, until he or she had developed a good track record. Despite this second criterion concerning the accuracy of predictions, we should keep in mind that the main purpose of the prophet was not to predict the future, but to provide divine guidance when the people had strayed. A prophet’s predictions were merely demonstrations of the prophet’s divine authority.