4th SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME (Cycle B)

Readings:
Deuteronomy 18:15-20
Psalm 95:1-2, 6-7a, 7b-9
1 Corinthians 7:32-35
Mark 1:21-28

All Scripture passages are from the New American Bible unless designated NJB (New Jerusalem Bible), IBHE (Interlinear Bible Hebrew-English), IBGE (Interlinear Bible Greek-English), or LXX (Greek Septuagint Old Testament translation).  CCC designates a citation from the Catechism of the Catholic Church. The word LORD or GOD rendered in all capital letters is, in the Hebrew text, God's Divine Name YHWH (Yahweh).

God's divine plan for mankind is revealed in the two Testaments and that is why we reread and relive the events of salvation history contained in the Old and New Testaments in the Church's Liturgy.  The Catechism teaches that the Liturgy reveals the unfolding mystery of God's plan as we read the Old Testament in light of the New and the New Testament in light of the Old (CCC 1094-1095).

The Theme of this Sunday's Readings: Teaching with Authority
When someone speaks with "authority," those listening have confidence that the speaker is telling the truth or at least believes what he/she is saying.  Our First Reading and Gospel Reading present two men who people recognized as speaking with authority because they spoke the words of God.  Moses, the Exodus liberator and lawgiver, was God's mediator in establishing the Sinai Covenant with Israel, and Jesus of Nazareth, who came to liberate the people from sin and death and to give a new law, became the mediator of a new and superior Covenant in establishing His kingdom of the Church universal (Heb 8:6; 9:15).  The Catholic Church teaches with that same authority.   It is the same authority given to St. Paul to preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ and to be a tutor and guide to Christians on their journey to salvation (Second Reading).  It is the same teaching authority that is exercised by our popes, bishops, and priests in the history of the Church.  Do you recognize the voice of authority spoken by the Church as Christ's representative to the world today in the same way many people of Jesus' time recognized His voice of authority and followed His teachings that were the pathway to eternal life?  If so, obey the words of the Responsorial Psalm: "If today you hear his voice, harden not your hearts"— be receptive and obedient to the voice of God spoken through Sacred Scripture and the representatives of His Church.

The First Reading Deuteronomy 18:15-20 ~ Moses promises the coming of a future Prophet
15 Moses spoke to the people, saying: "A prophet like me will the LORD, our God, raise up for you from among your own kin; to him you shall listen.  16 This is exactly what you requested of the LORD, your God, at Horeb on the day of the assembly, when you said, 'Let us not again hear the voice of the LORD, our God, nor see this great fire any more, lest we die.'  17 And the LORD said to me, 18 'This was well said.  I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their kin, 19 and will put my words into his mouth; he shall tell them all that I command him.  Whoever will not listen to my words which he speaks in my name, I myself will make him answer for it.  20 But if a prophet presumes to speak in my name an oracle that I have not commanded him to speak, or speaks in the name of other gods, he shall die.'"

In Genesis 20:7, Abraham is called a prophet by King Abimelech, meaning that the king considered Abraham to have a privileged standing before his God and was therefore a powerful intercessor.  The prophet is one of three authoritative offices of the covenant people were men were anointed to serve God and His covenant people:  the offices were those of prophets, priests, and kings.  Of each office Yahweh pronounced:

Jesus Christ came to fulfill all three holy offices of prophet, priest, and king in a new and eternal Covenant (CCC 436, 1547).

In this passage, Moses, God's holy prophet, reminds the children of Israel how terrified they were to experience the Theophany of God at Mt. Sinai and how they begged Moses to act as their mediator in conveying God's messages to them in a less frightening way (Ex 19:16-25; 20:18-19). God agreed to their petition, and Moses became the mediator of the Sinai Covenant.  In our reading, God promises the covenant people through Moses that He will raise up another prophet like Moses and defines how the people were to know if the prophets He sends the are legitimately chosen by God:

  1. The person had to be an Israelite
  2. The person had to only speak the words God put in his mouth
  3. The person had to teach the people with authority and had to be 100% accurate in the teachings (in agreement with the Law) and in prophecies, or the person cannot be a true prophet.

The prophet of God had an obligation to the people, but the people also had an obligation in response to a prophet: they had to listen to God's prophet and to obey or they would face divine judgment.  If the prophet proved to be false, the punishment was death (Dt 18:20). 

Since that passage speaks of the future prophet like Moses in the singular (verses 15, 18-19), both Jewish and Christian tradition has seen this passage as referring to the promised Redeemer-Messiah of Genesis 3:15 and the one promised in the prophecies of the prophets.  The New Testament Gospels identify Jesus with the promised prophet like Moses:

For Christians, a single event in the Gospels unquestionably reveals that Jesus isn't just "a prophet" but that He is the promised prophet in Deuteronomy 18:18-19. God's command in Deuteronomy is that the people must listen to the prophet like Moses that He will send to speak His words.  On the Mt. of Transfiguration, when Jesus revealed Himself in His glory to the Apostles Peter, James and John in the presence of Moses and Elijah, the Apostles heard a voice from heaven commanding: "This is my Son, the Beloved; he enjoys my favor.  Listen to him" (Mt 17:5; emphasis added; also see Mk 9:7; Lk 9:35).  The command to "listen," found in all three Synoptic Gospel accounts of the Transfiguration, is the same command as in Deuteronomy 18:19.

In addition, Jesus testified to the divine origin of His words when Jesus said: "And the word that you hear is not my own: it is the word of the Father who sent me" (Jn 14:24) in fulfillment of Moses' prophecy that the future prophet like him would speak the word of God.

Jesus also revealed to the Jewish crowd that He is the prophet Moses prophesied to the people and who Moses wrote about for future generations in Deuteronomy 18:18-19 when Jesus said: "Do not imagine that I am going to accuse you before the Father: you have placed your hopes on Moses, and Moses will be the one who accuses you.  If you really believed him you would believe me too, since it was about me that he was writing; but if you will not believe what he wrote, how can you believe what I say?" (Jn 5:45-47).  And, in his teaching at the Temple after Pentecost, St. Peter spoke of the promise of Christ's Second Coming and referred to the prophecy of "a prophet like Moses" in Deuteronomy 18:15-19, saying: "Then he will send you the Christ he has predestined, that is Jesus, whom heaven must deep till the universal restoration comes which God proclaimed, speaking through his holy prophets.  Moses, for example, said, 'From among your brothers the Lord God will raise up for you a prophet like me; you will listen to whatever he tells you.  Anyone who refuses to listen to that prophet shall be cut off from the people.'  In fact, all the prophets that have ever spoken, from Samuel onwards, have predicted these days" (Acts 3:20-24).  Later, addressing the Sanhedrin and giving his witness of Jesus as the Christ, St. Stephen will refer to the same prophecy (Acts 7:37).

The prophet became God's representative to the people when the civil and religious authorities failed to be holy leaders.  In the name of God, they chastised priests and kings who failed the people, like the prophets Samuel (1 Sam 3:19-4:1) and Nathan (2 Sam 12:1-15), and they called down the judgments of covenant lawsuits upon an apostate covenant people like the prophets Isaiah (Is 1:2-4; 34:8), Jeremiah (Jer 1:16; 11:1-8), Ezekiel (Ez 11:10-12; 17:19-21), Hosea (2:4/2-15/13; 12:3/2), and Jesus of Nazareth (Mt 24:31-36).  Jesus Christ is God's supreme prophet whose words are the pathway to life for all who hear and obey!  The Virgin Mary gave the best advice for us in this regard; it is as she told the servants at the wedding at Cana: "Do whatever He tells you" (Jn 2:5)!

Responsorial Psalm 95:1-2, 6-7a, 7b-9 ~ Have open hearts; do not harden your hearts against God
The response is: "If today you hear his voice, harden not your hearts."
1 Come, let us sing joyfully to the LORD; let us acclaim the rock of our salvation.  2 Let us come into his presence with thanksgiving; let us joyfully sing psalms to him.
Response:
6 Come, let us bow down in worship; let us kneel before the LORD who made us.  7a For he is our God, and we are the people he shepherds, the flock he guides.
Response:
7b Oh, that today you would hear his voice: 8 "Harden not your hearts as at Meribah, as in the day of Massah in the desert, 9 where your fathers tempted me; they tested me though they had seen my works."
Response:

In the opening two verses, the psalmist gives an invitation to come to the Lord in worship.  It is an invitation he will repeat in verse 6.  This invitation might indicate that this was a psalm that faithful pilgrims sang on the journey to the Jerusalem Temple.  Verses 6-7a express the main theme of the psalm: God is our Divine King and Creator who nourishes and guides us like a shepherd cares for his flock.

In verse 7b, we hear the voice of God speaking to His people, calling them to listen to His voice today!  It is a message that echoes down through salvation history.  Verses 8-10 carry God's warning to all generations that those who hear His voice must not be like the children of Israel when they tested Him in the wilderness journey out of Egypt at Meribah (Ex 17:1-7) and at Massah (Num 20:2-13).  On both those occasions, the Israelites hardened their hearts against God.  They "tempted" and "tested" Him by questioning His goodness and fidelity by attempting to force Him to act in their favor as if His previous deeds and acts of mercy were not enough to prove His love for the people.  Do not test God in your unbelief; be faithful, obedient and believe!

The Second Reading 1 Corinthians 7:32-35 ~ Living without anxiety in service to the Lord
32 I should like you to be free of anxieties.  An unmarried man is anxious about the things of the Lord, how he may please the Lord.  33 But a married man is anxious about the things of the world, how he may please his wife, and he is divided.  34 An unmarried woman or a virgin is anxious about the things of the Lord, so that she may be holy in both body and spirit.  A married woman, on the other hand, is anxious about the things of the world, how she may please her husband.  35 I am telling you this for your own benefit, not to impose a restraint upon you, but for the sake of propriety and adherence to the Lord without distraction.

Writing in the spring of 57 AD, St. Paul tells the Corinthians in 7:25 that he has no direction from the Lord in these matters but is giving his own opinion.  It was his opinion, in the current time of intense persecution of Christians and an uncertain future, that it is best for Christians to remain as they are: the married to stay married and the celibate to remain celibate (1 Cor 7:26-28).  Paul also expresses the opinion in our passage, if one is called to devote his or her life to the Lord, that it is a commitment that is better achieved in a state of celibacy so as not to have a heart that is divided between the Lord and family obligations.  In Matthew chapter 19 Jesus also raised the question of a consecrated celibacy when He said: Some are incapable of marriage ... because they have renounced marriage for the sake of the kingdom of heaven.  Whoever can accept this ought to accept it" (Mt 19:12).  It is for this reason that the Latin Rite of the Church has requested, as a discipline of greater devotion, a celibate priesthood: "All the ordained ministers of the Latin Church, with the exception of permanent deacons, are normally chosen from among men of faith who live a celibate life and who intend to remain celibate 'for the sake of the kingdom of heaven.'  Called to consecrate themselves with undivided heart to the Lord and to 'the affairs of the Lord,' they give themselves entirely to God and to men.  Celibacy is a sign of this new life to the service of which the Church's minister is consecrated; accepted with a joyous heart celibacy radiantly proclaims the Reign of God" (CCC 1579 quoting Mt 19:12 and 1 Cor 7:32).  These men live in imitation of Christ who was Himself celibate.  The Church also welcomes the service of consecrated virgins who live together in a life of chastity in service to God and man in imitation of the Virgin Mary who was a virgin all of her life (see CCC 1618-20).

The Gospel of Mark 1:21-28 ~ Jesus Teaches in the Synagogue and Cures a Demon Possessed Man
21 Then they came to Capernaum, and on the Sabbath he [immediately = euthus] entered the synagogue and taught.  22 The people were astonished at his teaching, for he taught them as one having authority and not as the scribes.  23 In their synagogue was a man with an unclean spirit; 24 he cried out, "What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth?  Have you come to destroy us?  I know who you are—the Holy One of God!"  25 Jesus rebuked him and said, "Quiet!"  Come out of him!"  26 The unclean spirit convulsed him and with a loud cry came out of him.  27 All were amazed and asked one another, "What is this" A new teaching with authority.  He commands even the unclean spirits and they obey him."  28 His fame spread everywhere throughout the whole region of Galilee.  [..] = literal Greek translation.

The covenant people worshipped, prayed, and offered their sacrifices at the liturgical worship services that took place twice daily, seven days a week, at God's holy Temple in Jerusalem.  But those who lived too far from Jerusalem could observe the Sabbath obligation at their local village Synagogues when they prayed as a community and studied Scripture.  As a faithful member of the covenant community, Jesus observed the Sabbath obligation. 

In verse 22 the people compared Jesus' teaching with that of the Scribes.  In His preaching, Jesus was not like the Scribes, who the people listening to Jesus felt did not teach with the authority and a true understanding of Sacred Scripture.  The Scribes and Pharisees are part of the Old Covenant religious leadership.  From the beginning of Jesus' ministry, those two groups challenged Jesus' teaching authority.  The Scribes were usually Levites (the lesser ministers who served the chief priests) that were trained as teachers of the Law.  The Pharisees were the most powerful religious sect in first century AD Judea.  Many Scribes were Pharisees, as was St. Paul before his conversion experience (Acts 23:6; 26:5).  The Pharisees were strict interpreters of the Law and considered themselves to be more righteous than ordinary covenant members who they usually held in contempt.  They also controlled the Jewish high court, called the Sanhedrin.  Jesus severely chastised the Pharisees for their lack of charity and their hypocrisy on His last teaching day in Jerusalem prior to His Passion when He called them a "brood of vipers" (see Mt 23:1-36).  The other sects with influence in this period were the Sadducees, who were mostly represented by the chief priests, the wealthy, and the aristocracy.

In verses 23-26, Jesus heals a man possessed by an "unclean spirit."  The "spirit" is "unclean" because it resists the holiness of God.  The spirit knows and fears Jesus, recognizing not only His true identity but His divine power.  Demon are spiritual beings who are the fallen angels.  They were created by God to be good but, through their own free will choice, became evil by rebelling against God and following Satan who was himself once an angel (see Rev 12:7-9 and CCC 391-95).

Notice that Jesus commands the spirit to be silent when it calls out His true identity in verse 25.  This is not the kind of witness Jesus wants to His true identity, and it is necessary for His identity to be revealed slowly through His acts and His teaching.  Many commentators see the unfolding story of Jesus in St. Mark's Gospel as centered on the "mystery" of Jesus' true identity and the mystery of God's divine plan that Jesus is sent to fulfill.  The Greek word mysterion in the singular is used just once in Mark 4:11 and its context in that passage is the "kingdom."  Mysterion in the singular is not found in the other Gospels where it is only used in the plural (Mt 13:11; Lk 8:10).  It is only used in the singular again by St. Paul in Romans 16:25.  It is "the mystery" associated with Jesus' true identity as the Kingdom of God incarnate and that God's reign is now breaking into the world and will radically alter human life forever.  Associated with this revelation of the kingdom is the sense that Jesus' true identity must remain a secret until the climax of His mission.  Concerning the mystery of Jesus' true identity in Mark's Gospel:

Following Jesus' example of casting out demon spirits who torment humans, the Church has always recognized the need for freeing victim souls from the power of demon spirits through the rite of exorcism (CCC 1673).  The Sacraments of Baptism and Confirmation offer protection from demon spirits through the filling and indwelling of the Holy Spirit in the soul of the believer

Catechism References:
Deuteronomy 18:19 (CCC 436, 783, 873, 904)
Psalm 95:1-2, 6 (CCC 2628); 95:7-8 (CCC 2659); 95:7 (CCC 1165); 95:9 (CCC 2119)
1 Corinthians 7:32 (CCC 1579, 1618-20); 7:34-36 (CCC 922); 7:34-35 (CCC 506)
Mark 1:21 (CCC 2173); 1:24 (CCC 438); 1:25-26 (CCC 1673)

Michal E. Hunt Copyright © 2015