Sunday Reflections

SYNOPSIS OF O.T. IV (FEB 1 SUNDAY): DEUT 18:15-20; I COR 7:32-35 MK 1:21-28 (L/15)
SYNOPSIS OF O.T. IV (FEB 1 SUNDAY): DEUT 18:15-20; I COR 7:32-35 MK 1:21-28 (L/15)

 

Introduction: The common theme of today’s readings is Divine authority reflected by the prophets of the Old Testament in their messages, by the apostles (including St. Paul), in their writings and teaching in the New Testament, and by Jesus in his teaching and healing ministry.

Scripture lessons: Today’s first reading tells us that a true prophet speaks with authority because it is God Who speaks through him. After the Babylonian exile, the Jewish priests began to interpret the words of Moses given in the first reading, namely, "a prophet like me," as referring to one individual, the expected Messiah. This passage is chosen for today’s first reading because it refers to Jesus, the "preacher with authority," mentioned in today's Gospel. In the second reading, St. Paul exercises his God-given authority as the Apostle to the Gentiles to teach people in Corinth that marriage is a holy state ordained by God and that it is a life-long partnership according to the teaching of the Lord. In today’s Gospel, Mark describes one sample Sabbath day of Jesus’ public life. He joins in public worship in the synagogue as a practicing Jew, he heals the sick, he drives out evil spirits and he prays privately. People immediately noticed that Jesus spoke with authority and healed with Divine power. Jesus explained the Scriptures with complete confidence, and when questioned by people, he answered with authority. He used his real (authentic) authority to teach, empower, liberate, and heal others. The evil spirit mentioned in today’s Gospel recognized Jesus as the Messiah and acknowledged him as such. Jesus commanded the evil spirit harshly, using strong words and tones: "Be quiet! Come out of him!" This was another reason Jesus developed a reputation for speaking with authority.

Life Messages: 1) We need to approach Jesus for liberation: Jesus did not use his authority and Divine power to rule and control people. He came to make people free.  Hence, let us approach Jesus with trusting faith so that he may free us from the evil spirits that keep us from praying and prevent us from loving others and sharing our blessings with others. Jesus also frees us from all the “evil spirits” of fear, jealousy, envy, addictions, compulsions, selfishness, anger, resentment and hostility. May he free us from all those spirits which make us deaf, dumb, blind, lame and paralyzed, physically and spiritually. 

2) We need to use our God-given authority to build up lives. So many people with authority have made a lasting impression on our lives either for good or bad. Perhaps it was a grandparent, an uncle, or a parent, who loved us and cared for us. Perhaps it was a Sunday school teacher who encouraged us in our Faith and exerted a positive impact on our lives. Perhaps we remember the kindness as well as the firm discipline that a schoolteacher gave us. Teachers are powerful because they change and mould lives. Hence, let us all become good teachers like Jesus and use our authority to mould young lives in the right way.

O.T. IV (Feb 1) DEUT 18:15-20; I COR 7:32-35; MARK 1:21-28 (L/15)

Anecdote: # 1: Who would deny that our century is possessed of an evil spirit? Jesus' world was a demon-haunted world. Men and women in the ancient world believed in demons. Demons for them were intensely real. The first century world was one of pain and suffering. There was no relief from pain. It was a world of natural disasters that took a heavy toll on life. Disease, even the slightest illness, could be fatal. There was a high rate of infant mortality. Life expectancy was in the middle forties. Because they had no idea of the causes of natural disaster, calamity, or disease, the people associated them with demons. It is difficult for our modern world to realize the power and influence that demons had upon first century human life. But when it comes to evil and demons, is there that much difference between the first and twenty-first centuries? We cannot dismiss evil as a first century phenomenon. It operates as an active force in our world as well as in our souls. In one lifetime we have witnessed the Holocaust of World War II, the Jewish holocaust, genocide in Cambodia, Jonestown, ethnic cleansing in Bosnia, child abuse in America, Branch Davidians, the bombings at New York's Twin Towers and Oklahoma City. Boko Haram and ISIS atrocities. Who would deny that our century is possessed of an evil spirit?

# 2: Show him yer papers! "There is an old story about some linemen who were busy putting up telephone poles through a farmer's fields. The farmer ordered them off his land, whereupon they showed him a paper giving them the right to plant poles wherever they pleased. Not long afterward a big and vicious bull charged the linemen. The old farmer sat on a nearby fence and yelled: 'Show him yer papers, darn ye, show him yer papers!'" To many Christians, Jesus' authority is only a paper authority. His word is something we study for inspiration, but we really don't believe that what Jesus teaches applies to our situation. For many of us, Jesus' authority doesn't extend to putting a marriage or a family back together. It doesn't mean curing an addiction or healing a character flaw. Maybe 2,000 years ago he had authority, but not today.

# 3: Athletes proclaiming the authority of God. Athletes with religious convictions are nothing new.  In 1954, the Fellowship for Christian Athletes (FCA) was founded "to present to athletes and coaches, and all whom they influence, the challenge and adventure of receiving Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord, serving him in their relationships and in the fellowship of the church." In a visit to the FCA's extensive Web Site, many familiar names pop up: Minnesota Vikings' wide receiver Cris Carter, Nebraska football coach Tom Osborne, University of Washington quarterback Brock Huard and Heisman-trophy-winner Charlie Ward. New Orleans Saints quarterback Danny Wuerffel is an active member of the FCA and a contributing writer to the FCA's monthly publication, Sharing the Victory. Wuerffel has said: “I am a Christian who happens to be an athlete, and not vice-versa." Courtney Chase declares, "For Christian athletes religion is part of the game." “Muscular Christianity" has been around since baseball-player-turned-evangelist Billy Sunday loudly refuted the idea that Jesus was a weakling, a man of sorrows, a loser. The football stadium at Notre Dame is situated next to a huge library mural known as "Touchdown Jesus." It was big national news when Dallas Cowboys cornerback Deion Sanders Sunday gave God all glory for the victories of his after the Cowboys' 37-7 rout of the Pittsburgh Steelers. Professional athletes are getting saved, and sports writers are getting annoyed! There can be no doubt that the number of athletes publicly testifying to their faith has drastically increased in the last few years. When the Yankees won the 1996 World Series, for example, The New York Times quoted the team's born-again star receiver, John Wetteland, saying, "Jesus Christ is my point man." Increasingly, the athletes are attributing their victories to God. Such testimonies -- along with the Bible study sessions, chapel services pre-game and post-game group prayer -- have all become an accepted part of the game today, bearing testimony to the authority of God in all spheres of human activities. Today’s Gospel tells us how Jesus demonstrates this Divine power and authority in his teaching and healing ministry.

#3: The en vogue theory: During a discussion of William Shakespeare, a student asked the old professor about the en vogue theory that Shakespeare did not write the plays ascribed to him. The professor growled, "Young man, if Shakespeare did not write those plays, then they were written by someone who lived at the same time and had the same name!" It is a sure sign of desperation in the atheistic circles to speak of Jesus as a myth - the idea that Jesus did not even exist, much less conduct a ministry with Divine power and Divine authority as described in today’s Gospel.

Introduction: The common theme of today’s readings is Divine authority reflected by the prophets of the Old Testament in their messages, by the apostles (including St. Paul), in their writings and teaching in the New Testament, and by Jesus in his teaching and healing ministry. Today’s first reading tells us that a true prophet speaks with authority because it is God who speaks through him. After the Babylonian exile, the Jewish priests began to interpret the words of Moses given in the first reading, namely, "a prophet like me," as referring to one individual, the expected Messiah.  According to Acts 3: 22; 7: 37 this is verified in Jesus Christ. This passage is chosen for today’s first reading because it refers to Jesus, the "preacher with authority," mentioned in today's Gospel. In the second reading, St. Paul exercises his God-given authority as the Apostle to the Gentiles to teach people that marriage is a holy state ordained by God and that it is a life-long partnership according to the teaching of the Lord. In today’s Gospel, Mark describes one sample Sabbath day of Jesus’ public life.  He joins in public worship in the synagogue as a practicing Jew, he heals the sick, he drives out evil spirits -- and he prays privately.  Since anyone could be invited to explain the Holy Scripture in synagogue worship, Jesus was invited. People immediately noticed that Jesus spoke with authority and healed with Divine power. The Old Testament prophets had taught using God’s delegated authority, and the scribes and Pharisees taught quoting Moses, the prophets and the great rabbis. But Jesus taught using his own authority and knowledge as God. Jesus used his real (or authentic) authority to teach, empower, liberate, and heal others.

First reading: Deuteronomy 18:15-20. Moses was about to die. The Chosen People were terrified because they were about to lose the person who had been successfully leading them through the wilderness toward the Promised Land. They were also going to lose a prophet who had been keeping them informed of Yahweh's will. When he died, how would they find out what God wanted of them? God answered the question by promising Moses that He would heed the people’s request and “raise up for them a prophet like you from among their kin, and … put My words into his mouth; he shall tell them all that I command him.” Moses had set up a theocratic society for the Israelites as he had been instructed to do by God. This society had various officers to regulate the civil and religious life of the people, e.g., judges, kings, priests and prophets. Today’s reading tells us that a true prophet would speak with authority because it would be God Who spoke through him. The text was first seen as promising that there would be a line of prophets to interpret previous revelations by God and to add some new ones for each generation. After the return from the Babylonian exile (c. 538 B. C.), the Jewish priests began to interpret this text of Deuteronomy as referring to one individual, namely the Messiah who was to come. The New Testament followed this interpretation and saw these words of dying Moses, "a prophet like me," verified in Christ (Acts 3: 22; 7: 37).  These verses therefore, have been chosen for today’s first reading because they refer to Jesus, the "preacher with authority," mentioned in today's Gospel.  

Second reading: 1 Corinthians 7:32-35. St. Paul and most of the early Christians believed, or strongly hoped, that the end of this world and the second coming of Christ were imminent. For this reason, many Christians in Corinth thought they should not enter into marriage, lest marriage should interfere with their whole-hearted service of God in preparation for the second coming of Jesus. As a good Jew, Paul presumed a different set of circumstances always demanded a different prophet with a different word.  Hence, St. Paul exercised his God-given authority as the Apostle to the Gentiles to teach people that marriage is a holy state ordained by God and that it is a life-long partnership according to the teaching of the Lord (see Mt. 5:32; 19:3-9). Further, Paul recommended a life of virginity to the non-married, only if they felt they could live such a life. The advantage of celibacy, as Paul explained, was that   celibates would have the freedom to serve God fully with the fewest earthly cares and worries.

Exegesis: Worship & teaching in the synagogues: In Jesus’ time there were synagogues, in Palestine, in every city and town of any importance, and, outside Palestine, wherever the Jewish community was large enough. The synagogue consisted mainly of a rectangular room built in such a way that those attending were facing Jerusalem when seated. There was a rostrum or pulpit from which Sacred Scripture was read and explained. It was here that Jesus showed his authority to teach (Navarre Bible Commentary).  

The authority of Jesus: Today’s Gospel passage begins and ends with comments about Jesus’ authority as a teacher (1:21-22 and 1:27-28). In between is an exorcism (1:23-26), pointing out a connection between Jesus' teachings and his supernatural authority.  Moreover, this is the first episode in Jesus’ ministry which Mark recounts after the call of the disciples. Jesus' authority is also the main theme in the collection of stories in 2:1 and 3:6. Verse 2:10 refers to the authority of Jesus to declare to people God's compassion in forgiving their sins (2:10). Mark in his Gospel repeatedly returns to the theme that Jesus’ teaching with authority gave him followers, and Jesus’ healing with Divine power liberated people from illness and demoniac possession. The Catholic and apostolic Church derives her teaching authority from her founder Jesus.

Teaching with authority: There was a local synagogue in every Jewish settlement of more than ten families. The synagogue was a place of instruction and Sabbath prayers.  The synagogue service consisted of three parts – prayer, the reading of God's word, and the exposition of it made by anyone who wished to do so. In this chapter Mark tells us that in the local synagogue Jesus taught with authority. This means that Jesus explained the Scriptures with complete confidence, and when questioned by people he answered with authority. He spoke as if he relied on no one beyond himself. He cited no authorities or experts. Mark also records the impact Jesus had on those who heard him. We are told how amazed people were at the authority with which he preached.  Jesus also showed his power and authority by curing the sick and granting forgiveness to people.

Exorcising with Divine authority:  In the synagogue, there was a man who was troubled by an unclean spirit. Everyone in the ancient Biblical world feared evil spirits and believed in demonic possession. People believed that demons or “unclean spirits” living inside the people caused leprosy, lameness, paralysis, etc. Even in the twenty-first century, we still believe in the existence of unclean spirits. How else can we explain the sudden explosions of anger that occur, the suicidal impulses, the intense jealousies, wild sexual fantasies, or overwhelming feelings of depression? We, as human beings, are keenly aware of these unclean spirits. We often wonder where the “unclean thoughts” come from and why we can’t rid ourselves of them. Victory over the unclean spirit, as the devil is usually described, is a clear sign that God's salvation has come: by overcoming the Evil One, Jesus shows that He is the Messiah, the Savior, more powerful than the demons.

The demoniac cried out, "What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth?” What does Jesus have to do with these unclean spirits that live in each one of us? The answer we find in the Gospel is equally true today: Jesus came to destroy the unclean spirits living inside of us. That is one of the reasons why Jesus came to earth in the first place and one of the reasons why he continues his presence in our lives. Jesus came to drive out those unclean spirits within us, to wash them away, to cleanse our lives of them. Let us put ourselves under his authority and he will liberate us. The evil spirit in today’s Gospel recognized Jesus as the Messiah and acknowledged him as such. Jesus commanded the evil spirit harshly, using strong words and tones: "Be quiet! Come out of him!" This was one of the reasons why Jesus developed a reputation for speaking with authority.

Life Messages: 1) Let us approach Jesus for liberation: Jesus did not use his authority and divine power to rule and control people. He came to make people free.  Hence, let us approach Jesus with trusting faith so that he may free us from the evil spirits that keep us from praying and prevent us from loving and sharing our blessings with others. He also frees us from all the “evil spirits” of fear, compulsions, selfishness, anger, resentment and hostility. "I have come that they may have life, life in abundance" (Jn 10:10). So Jesus should be a source of liberation for us. May he free us from all those spirits which make us deaf, dumb, blind, lame and paralyzed, physically and spiritually. Through Word and Sacrament, he brings that power to us and says to the demons in our life, "Be gone!" He says it as often as we need to hear it, over and over again, until by his power we are free from them all. Christ has power over any demon, whether that demon be an addiction, a heartache, a secret sin--whatever our need may be--Christ can set us free.

2) We need to use our God-given authority to build up lives. No doubt we can think back to people who have made a lasting impression on our lives – either for good or bad.  Perhaps it was a grandparent, an uncle, or a parent, who loved us and cared for us.  Perhaps it was a Sunday school teacher who encouraged us in our faith and exerted a positive impact on our lives. Perhaps we remember the kindness as well as the firm discipline that a schoolteacher gave us. On the other hand, there may be people in our past whom we remember with pain and discomfort. Are children learning something from us as parents that will stand them in good stead for the future? We want our children to grow into strong, wise, confident, capable, mature adults. But we want more than that.  We want them to grow in their Faith, to accept Jesus as their Lord and personal Savior.  We want children to see in us the love of Jesus and how our Christian faith affects our lives. A good question for parents, teachers and all of us is: "In what way am I helping the children I know grow in amazement at Jesus and his love for them?” When God's Word and God's ways are taught and spoken about with authority – with conviction – our children (and others) will see with amazement God's love for them in His Son Jesus.

3) We need teachers who know how to use their authority properly: Teachers are powerful because they change lives. They have, within their hands, power terribly to hurt or wonderfully to heal young lives. Most of us are deeply, forever indebted to some caring teacher in our past. Some people never get over the damage done to them by some cruel or uncaring teacher. So today, when we hear that Jesus entered the synagogue at Capernaum and began to teach, we need to take note. Jesus was a teacher. They never called him “Reverend,” or “Father,” or “Priest.” They called him “Rabbi,” which means “teacher.” Let us all become good teachers and use our authority to mould young lives in the right way.

Prepared by Fr. Antony Kadavil (akadavil@gmail.com) and published in the CBCI Website.

 

SYNOPSIS OF O.T. III SUNDAY (JAN 25, 2015): MARK 1: 14-20(L/15)
January 18, 2015