4th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle B

1st Reading: Deuteronomy 18: 15-20

This book is a ‘second law, a second look’ at the covenant between God and his people. It was written after the exile when Israel was rediscovering their roots. It is in the form of an address written as if Moses is giving a final speech to the people before they cross the Jordan into the promised land. It is also his farewell speech to his people. He had led them out of slavery and now through the desert. They will enter the Promised Land without him, but not without teaching and guidance from the Lord. This book contains long speeches and sermons that are intended to help the people reflect further on the law, God’s teaching on how they are to live. There is a constant call to reform and to live faithfully the covenant between God and God’s people.  For Christians, we are reminded that Jesus was and is the new Moses, the ultimate one in whose words God’s authority and power lived – and lives!  (Birmingham, W&W Wkbk Yr B, 467-468)

We often picture Moses as Charlton Heston, someone confident and suave.  But he had to be talked into his role.  Remember he asked God to have his brother Aaron speak for him because he didn’t think his voice would carry?  Moses was one with his people, “from among your own kin”. He didn’t put himself above them.  Consider this relationship with Jesus too.  What does it mean for your life?  Is it easier to listen to someone who is one with you?  What about in your actions…do you place yourself at one with others if you are in a position of authority?

2nd Reading: 1 Corinthians 7: 32-35

In order to understand this passage, it is important to read this part in connection with the rest of the chapter and the letter.  Taken out of context, it is very easy to misunderstand Paul’s words and to misuse these words.  Paul did seem to have a bias in favor of celibacy — maybe because he himself was not married, or because he was a widow, or because he truly believed that the second coming was imminent. He was also reacting here within the culture of Corinth that seemed to hold two extremes: one of sexual promiscuity, and one of sexual asceticism. When you read the entire chapter (and letter) you can see these important ideas coming forth:

1) Paul believed that our bodies were holy and that there was virtue in praising God with our total selves. 2) Paul believed in the mutuality of men and women and that there was to be a balance of rights between husband and wife. 3) Lawful, married sexual relations in no way prohibited a person from coming to God in prayer. While celibacy might be seen as a ‘gift’ to some, it was not intended for everyone. 4) Paul held sacred the human dignity of every person – men and women. Both are equal. Both husband and wife are to ‘please’ their spouse. This suggests a view of marriage as a union of sensitive friendship and respect.  (Birmingham, W&W Wrkbk for Yr B, 468-469)  In light of all of this, what meaning do you get from this passage?

The Gospel: Mark 1: 21-28

From John Pilch, The Cultural World of Jesus, Cycle B:  We see much of the ‘culture’ of the times here in this passage; spirits, both good and bad, were part of the belief system of Jesus’ time. It was believed that spirits also had much greater power than humans. Only God had more power. To call out the name of a spirit was to have power over it. So by shouting out Jesus’ true identity, the unclean spirit was trying to overcome Jesus’ power. Jesus was also ‘just an artisan from Nazareth.’ He was acting totally out of line with his inherited status – thus he astonished the people (Some translations say spellbound!). Yet, Jesus’ words are in line with his actions. So to those who could see this truth, he regained his honor and his “fame spread everywhere.” Even the man who had been filled with “an unclean spirit” was now released and reunited with his people.  Today, we no longer see illness as ‘demonic.’  We have other ‘demons’ for Jesus to overcome. (28-29)

From E Schweizer, The Good News According to Mark:  We also see in Mark’s dramatic story how God is speaking through Jesus in such a way that those who have been separated are brought back into fellowship with God and each other. In Jesus’ word, heaven actually breaks in and hell is abolished. Jesus’ words are action and life. (48-52)

From Celebration, Jan. 2006:  The word, authority, which in Greek is exousia means ex “out of” and ousia which means “being.” So Jesus taught out of his very being . . .

What do you think Mark meant when he used this word to refer to Jesus and his way of teaching?

“The teaching and the healing are inextricably connected.  Jesus’ deeds lend authority to his words, and authenticate them:  someone who can drive out demons is surely someone to listen to, and what he says must be true.  And his words help to explain his deeds; since his preaching is about the reign of God, his healings must somehow be a manifestation of the coming of that reign.  The crowd also must have marveled at the way the exorcism was accomplished:  without any of the complicated incantations or rituals that other wonder-workers used – without even a touch.  This man did this with just his words.  Jesus’ speech is more powerful than the demonic power.  And his words effect what he says.  No wonder they were amazed,”  Fr. James Martin’s Jesus:  A Pilgrimage, p. 148-149.

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