by Father Mike Stubbs
Some fortunetellers will examine tea leaves in order to see into the future. Others will look at the lines in a person’s hand to see where they lead, or read the playing cards that the person has selected for similar clues about that person’s fate.
Thousands of years ago, the augurs of the ancient Romans claimed to predict the future from the direction that a flight of birds would take. The Babylonian priests of antiquity would sacrifice an animal and, peering into its guts, see the future through the way its entrails were entwined. Throughout the ages, people have tried all kinds of methods to coax a message out about the future.
In contrast, the God of Israel would speak directly to the prophets, to send them a message. This Sunday’s first reading, Dt 18:15-20, makes that very clear. God promises Moses: “I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their kin, and will put my words into his mouth; he shall tell them all that I command him.”
This approach on God’s part will make Israel’s prophets stand out from the neighboring people’s soothsayers and diviners. Significantly, this passage in the Book of Deuteronomy immediately follows a passage which condemns the practices of fortunetelling and necromancy: “Let there not be found among you anyone who immolates his son or daughter in the fire, nor a fortuneteller, soothsayer, charmer, diviner, or caster of spells, nor one who consults ghosts and spirits or seeks oracles from the dead” (Dt 19: 10-11). The true prophets of Israel will not need to resort to such indirect methods to hear God speak to them. God will speak plainly. And if they distort what God has to say, they will do so at their own peril. God warns them: “If a prophet presumes to speak in my name an oracle that I have not commanded him to speak, or speaks in the name of other gods, he shall die.”
God wants the people of Israel to take the prophet’s word seriously. And God will back up the prophet: “Whoever will not listen to my words which he speaks in my name, I myself will make him answer for it.”
And what will God say? Usually, when the prophets make some prediction about the future, it is conditioned upon how the people of Israel will behave. If they do not act according to God’s guidance, then they will receive punishment. If they follow God’s will, then the people of Israel will be rewarded. The future depends on how they react to God’s word.
In that respect, nothing has changed. Our ultimate future also depends on how we react to God’s word. In that sense, the future is in our hands. It does not depend upon fate.