Revised Common Lectionary Reading: Proverbs 30:1-9
5 Every word of God proves true;
he is a shield to those who take refuge in him.
6 Do not add to his words,
or else he will rebuke you, and you will be found a liar.
I first learned these words of Scripture in an Evangelical counter-LDS pamphlet, as part of the reason why orthodox Christianity rejects Joseph Smith as a false prophet and sees LDS doctrine as heretical. The way I remember the context, the basis of the argument was that the canon of Scripture is closed, and the Book of Mormon, Pearl of Great Price, and Doctrine and Covenants add to the canon, the word that God has proved true. Unfortunately, the canon is closed only on a technicality–the Christian tradition is so scattered in its expressions that we could no longer add to the canon even if it were possible to call a genuinely ecumenical council that would carry authority across the entire Christian world.
But as I read these words today, I recognize that they are saying something profound and dangerous about prophetic ministry: prophets and sages require deep humility and listening, so that they discern and speak what they hear from God, and no more. There is certainly room for God to speak new things–in Matthew 4:1-11 (another reading for today), Jesus says that “Humanity does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord.” (Please notice that the sentence is in the present, and not the past, tense.) But as the oracle who wrote Proverbs 30 knows, along with Jesus, there is a profound temptation to forget or add to God’s goodness in ways that fundamentally compromise the ministry that we are called to carry in the world.
7 Two things I ask of you;
do not deny them to me before I die:
8 Remove far from me falsehood and lying;
give me neither poverty nor riches;
feed me with the food that I need,
9 or I shall be full, and deny you,
and say, “Who is the Lord?”
or I shall be poor, and steal,
and profane the name of my God.
Just as Jesus was tempted to forget God and supply his own needs by the Satan, I must admit that as a poor PhD student and disabled man, it is easy to justify taking (read: stealing because I didn’t ask permission) food that isn’t mine from the communal fridge because I run out of groceries and feel hungry. (Usually, this is poor planning on my part, not dire need.) Both literally and metaphorically, I will ask now for the food and daily materiel I need, so that my life will be in balance, full of gratitude. Those who have what they need, no more and no less, see more clearly the world in which they live and minister, and thus, it seems, are less likely to “deny” God or “add to his words.”
May He grant me the grace to repent, plan better, and discern the word He wants me to carry with balance, skill, gratitude, and clarity. Amen.