Jesus lends power to the Word

  • January 17, 2012

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

So many people claim to speak for God. There are voices that clearly communicate the divine will, while others reflect more selfish or even evil motives. Through the babble of voices it is surprising that God ever manages to be heard.

Deuteronomy was written during a time of religious reform in Israel and it is clear that this text seeks to authenticate the role of prophets in the life of the nation and to provide a link to Moses. People looked longingly to Israel’s ideal past when there was actually someone who was on direct speaking terms with God. In the New Testament, even the Gospels witness to the expectation of many people that there would be “a prophet” who would come into the world. Deuteronomy referred to Exodus’ account of the refusal of the people to approach the presence of God on the mountain. They were filled with fear and dread so they turned everything over to Moses.

How often people do the same thing — they relinquish their birthright, their right to know and listen to God. Even Moses expressed a wish that all in Israel would prophesy, but it was not to be (Num 11:29). The Word of God should not be confused with our opinions, prejudices and ideologies. Authentic prophetic voices call us to justice, mercy, compassion and unity. They do not counsel violence, hatred or exclusion. Most of all, they do not offer false comfort or tolerate hypocrisy and denial. 

Paul often speaks from a rather simplistic “either/or” view of the world. In this passage from Corinthians he extolled the unmarried state as spiritually superior to marriage. Placed in the context of the entire chapter from which it is taken it is obvious that what Paul said was in expectation of the imminent return of Jesus and the radical transformation of the world. He was convinced that time was running out. But one cannot simply assert that unmarried people are more committed to God and those who are married entangled and immersed in the affairs of the world. Spiritual commitment is a matter of conscious choice and depends on the individual. The married and unmarried states are both perfectly valid spiritualities but in order to be so each must be embraced with spiritual awareness and commitment. 

In Mark’s Gospel the demons were about the only ones who really knew who Jesus was and why He came. Their theology was not deficient but correct theology alone does not save! One of His first public acts in Mark was to confront a possessed man — this was a skirmish in the cosmic battle to wrest control of the world from the negative powers and restore it to God. The demons did not have their day in court nor were they permitted to argue or bargain. Jesus commanded them to be silent and to leave the tormented man. The crowd was amazed at His “new teaching” — but there does not appear to have been any teaching, only a command. Perhaps the command was the teaching.

Jesus spoke with power and authority — throughout the Gospels people were amazed that the demons, the winds and the waves all obeyed Him. On the surface the words that He spoke were no different than any other words. Even many of His teachings were derived from His own religious tradition. One might even ask if there are really ever any “new” ideas — perhaps what seems new is something old and profound that is re-energized and proclaimed in a manner that is powerful and inspiring. With the words and teachings of Jesus it is His identity and qualities that is the source of its power and authority. The words were spoken by one totally in harmony with the divine source and they are applied and lived out in a perfect manner.

Why does so much of the Christian proclamation fall on deaf ears and fail to inspire? Perhaps because it is often just words — human words rather than God’s Word. If we want to reinvigorate our own witness and proclamation we should forget gimmicks and appeals to authority. The strength and authority of our proclamation of the Word will depend on how close we are in mind and heart to God and how well we walk the path that we proclaim.