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God's Word on Sunday: Be attentive to God’s voice guiding us

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  • January 24, 2021

Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Jan. 31 (Year B) Deuteronomy 18:15-20; Psalm 95; 1 Corinthians 7:32-35; Mark 1:21-28

What happens when a great prophetic figure passes from this Earth? Who takes their place and how do people once again hear the voice of God?

It is a dangerous transition, for it is at this point that the fervour, commitment and spiritual understanding of a movement often begins to wane or go astray. God promised that another prophet would be raised up from their ranks and he would speak with the full authority of Moses. It would take a special individual to fill the sandals of Moses, and yet we know that Joshua was his designated successor and led the people into the Promised Land. But although Joshua was a great leader, he was +not really a prophetic figure.

The image of the promised prophet lingered in Israelite consciousness for centuries, sometimes coming to rest on some of Israel’s prophets. In the New Testament, people sometimes spoke of an unnamed prophet coming into the world, asking if perhaps John the Baptist or Jesus could be the one.

Behind this speculation was a yearning for the presence, guidance and voice of God. There is also a danger in the idea of an anointed prophetic successor. Not everyone who claims to speak for God actually does, and the pages of history are filled with sad accounts of exploitation, oppression and corruption. Discernment is certainly called for. The words, teachings and deeds of one claiming prophetic status must be in harmony with what God revealed in the beginning.

There is another way of approaching the promise of prophetic continuity. The Spirit of God resides in the community and the Spirit is free to speak through various individuals. We should always be vigilant for the voice of God challenging, guiding and encouraging us from among the faithful. As believers we share in the prophetic office, and when our hearts and minds are in harmony with God, we should not be hesitant to voice the inspirations and promptings that are given to us.

Paul is perhaps guilty of making some sweeping and unwarranted assertions. Paul was writing his advice in the shadow of what he believed to be the approaching day of the Lord. This called for a heightened awareness and expenditure of energy.

But it is not necessarily true that an unmarried person is more committed and dedicated to God, or that a married person is too busy and distracted. That depends entirely on the individual person — there are married people who are exemplars of spiritual and religious commitment, just as there are single believers who are lukewarm in God’s service.

We can all examine our own hearts, asking what in life is most important for us. Our commitment can take different forms, depending on our own life situation, but the call to God’s service is for everyone.

What was so special about the words of Jesus? They had a profound impact on His listeners, who recognized that His words had special power and authority. Although most were not aware of His identity, the demons were under no illusion — they knew who He was and why He had come, and they were terrified.

They knew that their power was ending. Jesus exercised this authority even more by placing them under what we would call a gag order. The demons were not to disclose His identity, for the time was not opportune. He had much to do first.

His words had such power because they were spoken by one in complete harmony with the divine source. Demagogues and dictators can rouse the baser emotions of crowds, but their influence does not last. Their antics can appear ludicrous when viewed later in films and newsreels.

The words of Jesus, on the other hand, haunt humanity. They have a power and attraction that can stir hearts and illuminate minds even after 2,000 years, for we can sense their divine origin. The only voices that will have an enduring and healing impact on our violent and polarized world are those that resonate with the mind and heart of God.

These voices are not mysterious — they are the ones that speak of unity, compassion, reconciliation, tolerance, justice, mutual solidarity and forgiveness. These and only these voices will put the demons that plague our own time to flight.

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