FOURTH SUNDAY(B) JANUARY 31, 2021
Deuteronomy 18: 15-20; Psalm 95; 1Corinthians 7: 32-35; Mark 1: 21-28
by Jude Siciliano, OP
WELCOME to the latest email recipients of "First Impressions," the women retreatants from Immaculate Conception Parish in Durham, NC.
Ancient people believed that mere humans could not approach God face to face. They would not survive the encounter with the all-powerful and holy One. We hear this reflected in our first reading from Deuteronomy. The people request of Moses, "Let us not again hear the voice of the Lord, our God, nor see this great fire anymore lest we die." So, they asked Moses to act as their intermediary with God. God accepts their reverential awe and even goes further, promising them another great prophet who, like Moses, will bring God’s word to the people.
After 400 years without a prophet Jesus appears on the scene. Normally prophets begin speaking with the words, "Thus says the Lord." But throughout the gospel Jesus begins his preaching with, "I say to you." As we plainly see in today’s gospel his words are effective, doing what they say. His words have authority – Jesus has authority. Today he casts out an evil power, later his word will bring about healings. All these good works reveal the saving presence of God. It is a new day – the day of the Lord. After the resurrection, Jesus’ disciples will come to realize he wasn’t just another prophet like Moses, but was the real and personal presence of the divine at work in their midst.
Jesus’ relationship to God is also shown by the power of his words. Just as God said, "Let there be light," so Jesus’ word brings light, driving out the darkness caused by sin. The word he speaks in the synagogue, "Be quiet," will later calm the storm. His words will open the eyes of the blind, the ears of the deaf and raise the dead to life. God’s word in Jesus’ teaching also brings light into the darkness of people’s minds caused by ignorance and sin.
Today Mark clearly shows that Jesus is the fulfillment of God’s promise to Moses and the people. Speaking through Moses God had promised, "I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their kin and will put my words into his mouth…." We will note throughout this gospel how slow the people are to respond to this "one like Moses." But, as today’s passage shows, the evil spirits are quick to recognize Jesus’ authority and respond to his word, "Quiet! Come out of him." He will not let them speak about him because their words will not flow from faith, but from rivalry and hostility.
Remember that John the Baptist had promised the one who was to come after him would be mightier than he and would baptize with the Holy Spirit (1:8). In the synagogue Mark shows that Jesus has come with the promised power of the Spirit to overcome evil and the unclean spirits we face daily in their small, or large manifestations. The Internet, cable news and the front pages of our newspapers show us the myriad manifestations of evil in our society and world. Like what? Recall the violent displays in our Capitol on January 6; the addiction that enslaves millions in our country; the racial injustices throughout our systems; the disproportionate numbers of the poor in our prisons...and so much more.
Besides the unclean spirits in our world, what unruly spirits disrupt our personal lives? If Jesus would deliver us from them how would our lives change and what would that change say to others about Jesus’ power and authority? Shall we turn to him again and ask him to speak a powerful word to free us from whatever spirits are claiming all, or parts of our lives, right now?
When the people in the synagogue witnessed Jesus’ power over the evil spirit they were astonished. But amazement and admiration do not disciples make. Witnessing the manifestation of Jesus’ authority and power required more from those present. In fact, in Mark’s gospel, the very same people who were astonished by his powerful deeds will attribute his power to the devil, others will claim that he is "out of his mind." So, Jesus’ teachings and acts of power challenged those present, and us who hear the gospel today, to make an act of faith in the one Mark announced from the very opening of his gospel as, the "Son of God." Isn’t it ironic that at the end of Mark’s gospel it is the soldier at the foot of the cross who voices the truth that the gospel has been proclaiming from the beginning, "Truly, this man was the Son of God." (15:39).
The stunned crowd who witnessed Jesus’ powerful work and heard his teaching asked, "What is this?" (Or, "What does this mean?") The gospel poses the same question to us, challenging Jesus’ disciples, whether or not we accept him and his way of life? And if we do, how deeply committed are we to him? Are we true to his teachings about forgiveness and love of neighbor, especially the neediest among us? Since the gospel announces what is being introduced is "a new teaching with authority," do we continue to reflect on his teachings, accept their authority so we can grow as his disciples?
Many are timid about sharing their faith with another. If we speak out of what Jesus has taught us our words will also have his anointing power; words that can drive out darkness and fear and bring healing to distressed spirits If we live as Jesus’ disciples then we will communicate the authority and life his teachings have for all people. In other words, Christ-living disciples are powerful signs of God’s kingdom, God’s authority in the world.
We have confidence in Jesus’ words. We trust he will continue to be faithful to us as he sends us modern prophets to teach us his ways by their words and example. In light of the gospel we ask: who speaks to us with authority? The Pope, the president, a teacher, a loved one, the saints, theologians, etc.? Who are those who help us form our conscience and show us the presence of God in our lives and in the world? Who helps us interpret God’s will? We need teachers, religious and even secular, to help us pattern our lives on Jesus. The power of evil is very present in our world, but God’s power through the Spirit of Jesus can help us overcome it.
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