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A new teaching with authority

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January 27, 2012

By Terrance Callan

Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time: Deuteronomy 18:15-20; 1 Corinthians 7:32-35; Mark 1:21-28

Sometimes a person or event stands out from the ordinary course of life and arrests our attention.

We may not understand why, but something makes this person or event very interesting to us. In some cases we may discover that what makes it so compelling is that God is speaking to us through this experience.


The reading from the Gospel according to Mark narrates an occasion when Jesus struck people in this way. On the sabbath, as Jesus was teaching in the synagogue at Capernaum, the people who heard Him were astonished by the authority of His teaching. They were accustomed to the teaching of the scribes, but Jesus’ teaching seemed to have greater force. The people were further amazed when Jesus exorcised an unclean spirit from a man who was present in the synagogue. Not only did Jesus’ teaching demand action from the people who heard Him, even the unclean spirits obeyed Him.


Before Jesus exorcized the unclean spirit, the spirit said to Jesus, “I know who you are — the Holy One of God.” This is why Jesus taught as He did and had such power.  But Jesus responded, “Quiet!” apparently trying to conceal His identity. The story encourages us to ask ourselves how it is that we have come to understand the authority of Jesus’ teaching and His power over unclean spirits.


The reading from the Book of Deuteronomy offers another explanation for the special character of Jesus. Moses told the people that God would raise up for them a prophet like himself. When God revealed the 10 Commandments to the people of Israel at Horeb (= Sinai), they found it so fearful that they asked God to speak to them through Moses rather than directly. The rest of God’s revelation at Horeb came through Moses. So that God can continue to speak to the people through a prophet after the death of Moses, God promised to send them a prophet like Moses in the future. The combination of this passage with the reading from the Gospel of Mark suggests that Jesus is the fulfillment of that promise. It is because Jesus speaks the words of God that His teaching has authority.


The reading from Deuteronomy mentions the possibility that there would be false prophets as well as true ones. The false prophet is one who claims that he speaks for God, but does not. This makes us realize that we can be fascinated by things other than communications from God. When we find ourselves struck by something, we need to discern whether it is because God speaks to us in it, or for some other reason.


The reading from the First Letter of St. Paul to the Corinthians speaks about what we should do when we have heard and seen God in Jesus. We should focus entirely on the things of the Lord Jesus, how we may please the Lord. This is so much the case that Paul argues it is good for people not to marry. The married person is not only focused on the Lord, but also on his or her spouse. Thus married people are divided, but unmarried people can adhere to the Lord without distraction. Elsewhere Paul makes it clear that not everyone is called to celibacy (1 Corinthians 7:7). However, beneficial it may be to be unmarried, everyone needs to live in accord with the gift they have been given by God.


Callan is a faculty member at the Athenaeum of Ohio.


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