The most personal of the five characteristics which help us discern a true prophet from a false prophet involves our heart. True prophets speak to the heart, to that dimension of our being which God placed in us at the moment of our creation. They never speak to the self-centered core which we've acquired after our birth.

Completely bypassing our selfishness and prejudices, real prophets reach out to that part which is nearest to God and which connects us to God throughout our lives. Only after we take a prophet's message to heart, absorb it and unselfishly reflect on its implications will we be able to determine whether it's correct or false.

That's why Jeremiah longs for the day when his people will acknowledge Yahweh working in their hearts, the day when prophets will be obsolete (Jer 31:31-34). "No longer," Yahweh proclaims, "will they have need to teach their friends and kinsmen how to now the Lord. All, from least to greatest shall know me." This will happen because "I will place my law within them and write it upon their hearts; I will be their God and they shall be my people."

Knowledge

Jeremiah's hope for a new, heart-filling covenant revolves around the word "know." Accustomed to Greek definitions, we think we know something or someone if we have an intellectual acquaintance with them; if, for instance, we read about them or see them on television. Semites, on the other hand, equate knowing with experiencing. They believe that they only really know what they've touched.

So when they speak about knowing Yahweh, they're talking about reaching out and coming into contact with God personally working in their lives. They would never say they know a God that someone else has told them about. They can only know the God they touch in their heart.

Yet it's on the level of experience, the level of our heart, that we most dread hearing God's word. The early Christian community realized that it was on that level that Jesus came into contact with God, and it was on that level that He asked His followers to imitate Him. By experiencing Jesus, the first disciples discovered that the heart not only is the best place to touch God, but also the most painful.

The author of the Letter to the Hebrews seems to clearly understand the painful dimension of encountering God in our heart (Heb 5:7-9). Reflecting on Jesus' death and resurrection, he states that God certainly hears Jesus' "prayers and supplications which He offered with loud cries and tears." Yet, it was Jesus, not God, who changed.

"Son though He was, He learned obedience from what He suffered; and when perfected, He became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey Him." By conforming Himself to the word of God which He discovered in His heart, Jesus gave us not only an example of how to listen to God, but also the strength to do so.

Agony moved

Those who carefully read John's Gospel will notice that he leaves out the Agony in the Garden (Jn 12:20-33). He has Jesus go to the garden after the Last Supper only to be arrested, not to pray. Yet, many scholars believe John doesn't totally eliminate Jesus' agony; he simply rearranges the chronology and places it here, just before the Last Supper narrative begins.

Notice how Jesus' words parallel His Gethsemani words in the other three Gospels: "My soul is troubled now, yet what should I say, Father, save me from this hour? But it was for this that I cam to this hour. Father, glorify your name."

Jesus can utter those words only because He's personally reached a heartfelt insight that "unless the grain of wheat falls to the earth and dies, it remains just a grain of wheat. But if it dies, it produces much fruit."

Fortunately, Jesus doesn't stop there. He's generous enough to share His death/resurrection experience with His followers. "If anyone would serve me," Jesus exclaims, "let that person follow me; where I am, there will my servant be."

True Christians always try to reach the spot where Jesus is, the spot which only those who dare reach into their own hearts will ever discover.

(03-13-97)