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False prophets today promise salvation through health and beauty, prosperity and celebrity

From the dawn of time sinful humanity has striven for life and knowledge, a key that would guarantee safety in a threatening world. They longed to escape from the vagaries of pitiless fate. Many resorted to soothsayers and diviners, others to arcane incantation and false prophets. It was against this background that Moses, knowing the temptations that awaited the tribes of Israel in the promised land, warned the people against false prophets and every form of sorcery.

Ancient superstitious practices, laughable to a scientific age, cannot be entirely dismissed. Each and every age longs for a voice, a revelation that will speak to the heart, thereby guaranteeing the future.

Through Moses the God of Israel gave such voice to his people, a voice that named them as his very own, that it gathered them together in a covenant of love. Moses took the promise further. He promised that the Lord would raise up for Israel a prophet like himself, a prophet that would speak to God face to face, as to a friend. That promise was unfulfilled at the death of Moses. The Book of Deuteronomy is concluded with unfulfilled expectation. “Since then, never has there been a prophet in Israel like Moses, the man the Lord knew face to face.”

The gospels reveal Jesus as the fulfilment of this expectation for a prophet like unto Moses. They had longed for a prophet raised up from among their brothers. Through the incarnation the Son of God became their brother, like unto them in all things but sin. They had longed for a prophet, who, like Moses, spoke to God as to a friend, face to face. As Son of God, Jesus shared with his people the intimacy of the Father.

The early chapters of the gospels spell out in action a dawning awareness of Christ’s significance. Like many before him, he taught in their synagogues, but here was teaching with a difference. “His teaching made a deep impression on them because, unlike the scribes, he taught them with authority.”

The authority for which they longed was not the authority of power, but an authority that comes from the heart. They longed for words that instinctively acknowledged the truth of their broken lives, and yet, at the same time, promised hope and redemption.

They witnessed, as in today’s Gospel, the deliverance of those possessed by unclean spirits. The more they witnessed such wonders, the more they began to acknowledge the saving Presence that had come into their lives. “Here is a teaching that is new and with authority behind it: he gives orders even to unclean spirits and they obey him.” The crowd’s reaction to Jesus leads us to reflect on our own lives. Like them, we are searching for meaning and purpose. Today, as in the day of Moses, there are many false prophets. They promise salvation through health and beauty, prosperity and celebrity. The list is endless and disappointing, and yet we continue to give ourselves to false hopes and dreams. Let us acknowledge Jesus, embracing in him the promise made through Moses.

Here is a prophet raised up from among ourselves, who leads us to the Father, the source of all knowledge and life. He speaks with authority, the power to change broken lives. He alone heals broken lives. Every other hope is sorcery by a different name.