Devote ourselves to the Lord

  • January 29, 2009
Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year B) Feb. 1 (Deuteronomy 18:15-20; Psalm 95; 1 Corinthians 7:32-35; Mark 1:21-28)

Many claim the mantle of prophecy for it can surround one with an aura of moral and spiritual authority. It can also be a sort of free pass to say and do a lot of things that might normally be unacceptable.

But the reality is far more complicated. The role of prophet is different from that of a social critic, reformer or contrary voice, although these aspects are often part of a prophet’s ministry. A true prophet is one who has been singled out and commissioned by God and, as we see through the Scriptures, such an individual is usually less than thrilled with the calling. Humanity will never be without those who convey the word of God and we close our minds and hearts to the message at our own peril. God will not have to “punish” anyone — our hard-heartedness will bring consequences down on our own heads.

But there are also two warnings for any would-be prophet. The first is obvious: prophets must always speak on behalf of the God who commissioned them and not lead people astray.  The second is rather subtle but very important — and most often violated. The title of prophet must never be a vehicle for one’s own agenda or the extension of one’s ego. Real discernment is necessary for people often confuse their own passionately held opinions as an anointing from God. It is important to separate our own issues and opinions — however right and noble they may be — from the voice of divine prophecy.

Much harm is done by those who feel that the rightness and transcendent source of their beliefs overrides the demands of compassion, tolerance and respect for others. Sometimes it is difficult to discern what is truly from God, but there are a couple of important clues in Scripture. Pseudo-prophets often delight in denunciations and threats of doom and disaster. They seem eager to see these things come to pass. Most of the biblical prophets, on the other hand, were heartbroken and deeply distressed by the message and the images they had to deliver to their people.

Paul is often accused of portraying marriage in a negative manner and this passage in 1 Corinthians is cited as proof. But this is one of those many instances in which the Apostle’s views are distorted by taking snippets of his writings out of their original context. In this chapter Paul is concerned with the short time left before the return of Jesus. He speaks of crisis and the fact that the world as they knew it was passing away. Better for people to remain in the state in which they were called — married or single, slave or free — than to waste time and energy changing things that would soon vanish. Paul was neither anti-marriage nor pro-slavery, as he is often accused, but concerned that everyone spend the very brief time remaining following the Lord.

Two-thousand years have passed since Paul’s expectation of the imminent transformation of the world and we do not live with the same sort of urgency. This should remind us to avoid a sort of “Pauline fundamentalism” in dealing with today’s issues. If he were writing today, Paul would probably rephrase much of his letter. But Paul leaves us with an enduring challenge: regardless of our circumstances or state in life we are urged to devote ourselves to the affairs of the Lord to the best of our ability.

Words that are backed by divine authority and in harmony with God’s will have power and force. Words of divine power accomplish their purpose and cannot be resisted for long. We have seen examples of this in our own time with human rights, peace and the movement towards the reconciliation and unity of humanity. Gandhi recognized this when he spoke of “truth force” and we are now enjoying the fruits of Martin Luther King’s God-inspired words. When Jesus commanded the demons to leave their victim they did so — they had no choice. And they were well aware of who Jesus was — more so than those who were closest to Jesus. Shrillness and volume are seldom effective tools for positive change. Words that are chosen carefully and spoken with humility and in the mind and heart of Jesus are words that even the “demons” obey.