Thereupon the prophet Hananiah took the yoke from the neck of the prophet Jeremiah and broke it, and said in the presence of all the people: “Thus says the LORD: ‘Even so, within two years I will break the yoke of Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon, from off the neck of all the nations.’” At that, the prophet Jeremiah went away.
People often prefer their religion free of politics. There may be such a creature someplace but it's certainly not a Christian, Jewish or Islamic religion.
The same people would like their religious representatives to speak with the voice of authority and above the confusion of politics. If a pope, bishop or priest cannot manage this, surely a "prophet" can. Isn't the prophet or prophetess inspired directly by the Holy Ghost? Don't they speak infallibly?
In today's first reading we hear of the debate between two well-known prophets: the respected, popular Hananiah and the young, inexperienced Jeremiah. Jeremiah had been prophesying bad news; he wore a yoke on his neck just to show the humiliation that was coming out of the East, and God's displeasure with his people.
Hananiah was optimistic. He assured the people of Jerusalem that the King of Babylon and his armies would fail to capture the city. Considering the obstacles the Babylonians had to overcome, their political instability, and the vagaries of military adventures, his optimism was well founded. In fact we know that the Babylonian Empire collapsed before the advance of the Persian army. Apparently the Babylonian generals surrendered their armies to Persia without a fight!
But that was after they had conquered Jerusalem, and proven Hananiah wrong.
Although the smooth-talking Hananiah disgraced the boy prophet who went away shamefaced and silent, it was the boy we recall for his courage and fidelity.
Jeremiah insisted the only way to know if a prophet comes from God and speaks the truth is by watching to see what happens. If his predictions are fulfilled, he was speaking the truth; if not, he was lying.
So how do we know if the prophet is speaking God's word right now? We don't.
The prophet's job is not really to predict the future; it's to gather us back to the Covenant God has made with us.
In today's gospel we hear of Jesus' gathering the people and miraculously feeding them with a few loaves of bread and a couple of fish. The point, of course, was not that he could do this amazing stunt. He was not sent to entertain the people or even to prove he was God by magical tricks.
By feeding the crowd he gathered the pitiful, misguided people to himself, assured them of his compassionate authority, and invited them to believe in him as he proceeded toward Jerusalem.
We recognize also the Eucharist in his four-fold gesture of taking, breaking, blessing and distributing the bread. As he fed the crowds so he feeds us. As he reassured the crowds so he reassures us.
During this long summer of our discontent, seeing trouble in the mid-east, England and the United States, we hear Jesus calling us to himself.
We should not hesitate to place our confidence in the Lord who walks with us through good times and bad.