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 reveals His divine plan for mankind in the two Testaments, and that is why we read 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 the Readings: Teaching with Authority
When someone speaks with "authority," those listening have confidence that the speaker is speaking with the power of belief behind his words.  Our First Reading and Gospel Reading present two men the covenant people recognized as speaking with authority because they spoke with conviction concerning the words of God.  Moses, the Exodus liberator and lawgiver, was God's mediator in establishing the Sinai Covenant with Israel.  Jesus of Nazareth came to liberate the people from sin and death. He brought a new law in His role as the mediator of a new and superior Covenant established in His kingdom of the universal Church (Heb 8:6; 9:15).  The Catholic (catholic means "universal") Church teaches with the authority of Jesus Christ (Jn 20:22-23).  

In the First Reading from Moses' last homilies to the children of Israel, he tells the people God will send another prophet as a future lawgiver and covenant mediator.  Moses tells the people the future prophet will speak the word of God, and they are commanded to listen to him and obey.

In the Responsorial Psalm, we hear the invitation to come to the Lord in the liturgy of worship. The theme of the psalm is that God is our Divine King and Creator who nourishes and guides us like a shepherd cares for his flock.  The psalm's message for us is, like sheep that know their shepherd's voice and responded in trust and obedience by coming to him, we must recognize and trust the voice of Christ calling us to salvation.

In the Second Reading, St. Paul, empowered by the Holy Spirit taught with that same authority, received his commission to preach the Gospel of salvation from Jesus and the mission to bring the "Light of Christ" to the Gentiles (Acts 9:15).  St. Paul preached the Gospel of Jesus Christ as a tutor and guide to Christian communities across Asia Minor and Greece on their journey to salvation. 

In the Gospel Reading, the people were astonished at Jesus' teaching because He "taught them as one having authority and not as the scribes."  Jesus taught them with a true understanding of Scripture and the application of God's words in their lives.  Even those possessed by demon-spirits recognized His authority. Even those possessed by demon-spirits recognized His authority. Jesus is the promised prophet greater than Moses from the First Reading. He is the supreme prophet, lawgiver, and covenant mediator of a new and greater covenant (Heb 8:6, 13; 9:15; 12:24; CCC 1962, 1964, 1965).

Preaching the Gospel of Jesus Christ through the power of the Holy Spirit is the same teaching authority 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 a Future Prophet
Brothers and sisters: 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, King Abimelech called Abraham a prophet.  The Gentile 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 people in the offices of prophets, priests, and kings:

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, God's prophet Moses reminds the children of Israel how terrified they were to experience the Theophany of God at Mt. Sinai.  They begged Moses to act as their mediator in conveying God's messages 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 that one day He will send another prophet like Moses.  He also defines how the people will know if a prophet is legitimately sent by God:

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

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

Since the passage speaks of the future prophet like Moses in the singular (verses 15, 18-19), both Jewish and Christian tradition see 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 who is the new 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 to "listen" in Deuteronomy 18:19.  In addition, Jesus testified to the divine origin of His words when He 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 and 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 keep 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 NJB).  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 was God's representative to the people when the civil and religious authorities failed as 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).  They also 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 when 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 Hearts that are to Opened 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.  The invitation suggests 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.  They must not act 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 and attempted 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 opinion.  It was his opinion that it was best for Christians to remain as they were: the married to stay married and the celibate to remain celibate (1 Cor 7:26-28).  Paul also expresses the opinion, in answering the call to devote one's life to the Lord, it is a commitment 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 a celibate priesthood as a discipline of greater devotion: "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).  Catholic priests in the Latin Rite 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 her entire 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.

After His baptism by John the Baptist in Perea on the east side of the Jordan River (Mk 1:9-11; Jn 1:28) and His temptation (Mk 1:12-13), Jesus travelled north to the region of the Galilee and the fishing village of Capernaum.  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.   Those who lived too far from Jerusalem could observe the Sabbath obligation at their local village Synagogue when they prayed as a community and studied Scripture.  As a faithful member of the covenant community, Jesus observed the Sabbath obligation in the Capernaum Synagogue. 

In verse 22, the people compared Jesus' teaching to the scribes.  Unlike the scribes, Jesus taught with authority and a true understanding of Sacred Scripture.  The scribes and Pharisees were part of the Old Covenant religious leadership.  From the beginning of Jesus' ministry, these two groups continually challenged Jesus' teaching authority.  The scribes were usually Levites (the lesser ministers who served the chief priests) and received training as teachers of the Law.  The Pharisees were the most powerful religious sect in first-century AD Judea.  Many scribes aligned themselves with the Pharisees. The Pharisees were strict interpreters of the Law and considered themselves to be more righteous than the ordinary covenant members who they held in contempt.  They also controlled the Sanhedrin, the Jewish high court.  Jesus will severely chastise the Pharisees for their lack of charity and their hypocrisy on His last teaching day in Jerusalem before His Passion when He calls them a "brood of vipers" (see Mt 23:1-36).  The other sects with influence in this period are the Sadducees (mostly represented by the chief priests and the Herodian aristocracy) and the ultra-conservative Essenes.  The Essenes lived in cities but also in separate communities, dedicating themselves to asceticism, voluntary poverty, mysticism, and daily ritual immersion (baptisms of repentance and purification).  

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 demon-spirit knows and fears Jesus, recognizing not only His true identity but His divine power.  Demons are spiritual beings that are the fallen angels created by God to be good but who, through their own free will choice, became evil by rebelling against God to follow Satan who was himself once an angel (see Rev 12:7-9 and CCC 391-95). Jesus commands the spirit to be silent when it calls out His true identity in verse 25.  Jesus does not want a demon spirit to witness to His true identity.  It is necessary for His identity to be revealed slowly through His acts and His teachings. 

Many commentators see Jesus' unfolding story in St. Mark's Gospel as centered on the "mystery" of Jesus' true identity and the mystery of God's divine plan that Jesus came 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" of Jesus Christ.  "Mysterion" in the singular does not appear in the other Gospels where it is only in the plural (Mt 13:11; Lk 8:10).  The word only appears in the singular again in Romans 16:25.  It is "the mystery" associated with Jesus' true identity as the Kingdom of God incarnate and God's reign that is breaking into the world to 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; revised 2018