Matthew 24:23-28

Then if anyone says to you, ‘Look! Here is the Messiah!’ or ‘There he is!’ —do not believe it. For false messiahs and false prophets will appear and produce great signs and omens, to lead astray, if possible, even the elect. Take note, I have told you beforehand.

So, if they say to you, ‘Look! He is in the wilderness,’ do not go out. If they say, ‘Look! He is in the inner rooms,’ do not believe it. For as the lightning comes from the east and flashes as far as the west, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. Wherever the corpse is, there the vultures will gather. Matthew 24:23-28

In every age fraught with anxiety there will be voices of those who shout above the crowd, “Follow me!” And whoever said it first was right, “There’s a sucker born every minute.”

Every get rich quick scheme needs people to leave their values and common sense behind before buying into their sure-fire way to get rich, to beat the market. Any religious huckster can draw a few devoted followers. Every day on the Internet we see ads in the corner that don’t make sense but tempt us to click first and ask questions later.

Why do we fall for it?

Because we want an edge. We want a shortcut. We don’t want to be left behind or left out. And because that is our nature, we are always vulnerable to being cheated, deceived, and egged on despite our inner conscience screaming “NO!” There is a reason why “confidence men” are called con men. Because they grab us by our aspirations and hold us by our unwillingness to admit that we’ve been had.

This is nothing new. I didn’t realize the extent to which false messiahs captured peoples’ attention in the 1st century until I read Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth by Reza Aslan. While there are passages in the New Testament that hearken back to some of those characters (see Acts 5:34-40), Aslan reaches more deeply into the history to demonstrate that it wasn’t at all unusual for people to claim magical powers or divine sanction to develop a cult of followers.

What is tragic is that today, as smart as we think we are, we are still just as susceptible to charlatans. I’ve had parishioners who were scammed out of great amounts of money that they couldn’t afford to lose. But once they were in the net it was very difficult to extricate themselves. Partly they didn’t want to admit their foolishness but, even more powerful, they kept hoping against hope that the scam might really pay off someday.

The most effective scams are those accomplished by the rich and famous. We swoon for celebrities and those who have “made it”. Bernie Madoff made off with over $17 billion. Bennie Hinn still packs arenas. Some of the largest and most influential Christian congregations in America are based on the promise that if you give a lot to God, God will give a lot to you.

Jesus’ advice to us is simple on all of this – don’t follow, don’t listen, don’t fall for their false promises and empty rhetoric.

Let us pray: Dear Lord, in every age there are voices all around that tempt us away from trusting in you, from following your ways of being in the world. Protect us from these temptations. Expose those who prey upon peoples’ hopes and dreams only to use and abuse them for their own selfish motives. In Jesus’ name. Amen.


One Response to “Matthew 24:23-28”

  1. Carolee Groux Says:

    It seems there will always be charlatans and zealots among us. I remember a guy on TV, (don’t recall his name), who asked people to make donations. He would encourage them to send until it hurt because that would guarantee them double the blessings. In return this fraudulent preacher would send the listener a prayer cloth, a square of fabric he had supposedly personally blessed. What hubris! How egregious to represent oneself as a disciple of God.

    May the Holy Spirit guide and direct us away from such blasphemy.

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