Homily: 4th Sunday in Ordinary Time – Cycle B
Last week we heard Jesus’ first words in the Gospel, according to Mark: “This is the time of fulfillment…” In my homily, I reflected how Jesus was announcing that, with his coming onto the scene, the third age in human history had begun. The first was the time of creation: lasting from the first word that God spoke to form light until the first sin of our first parents, Adam and Eve, and their fall from grace. The second age was the time of promise: lasting from that moment when God promised to raise up a descendant of Eve who would crush the head of the evil one and save us from sin and death until Jesus himself is born and begins his public ministry. We are still living in this time of fulfillment, the third age, in which God has entered time and space in order to rescue it from destruction; and we await the coming of the fourth and final age: the age of glory, when Christ will return and evil, death, and sorrow will be banished from the universe forever.
Very interesting, then, that we hear today the next “scene” from Mark’s Gospel and, right on the heels of Jesus’ proclamation that the “time of fulfillment” had begun, we see him do something new: “he taught them as one having authority and not as the scribes.” Here, Jesus is indicating exactly what he proclaimed. By teaching as one with his own authority—not as one who referenced the authority of rabbis who had gone before him, like the scribes all did—Jesus steps out of the box to indicate that something new, indeed, has begun. The scriptures say that the people were astonished at his teaching: not necessarily because of what he taught (Mark does not record for us what he taught that day), but because he spoke as one having an authority all his own.
The more keen hearers in the synagogue that day would have hearkened back to the words of Moses, recorded in the book of Deuteronomy, which we read in our first reading today: that “a prophet like me will the Lord, your God, raise up for you from your own kin; to him you shall listen.” Moses, to the Jewish people, is THE prophet, whose authority no one’s, except God’s, is greater. Thus, for him to declare that a prophet like him will come—that is, one who teaches with authority, like he did—is something extraordinary indeed. And if we fast-forward to the end of the book of Deuteronomy, we read there that “since then [the death of Moses] no prophet has arisen in Israel like Moses, whom the Lord knew face to face.” Thus, the response of the people in the synagogue with Jesus that day, “What is this? A new teaching with authority”, highlights that some of them knew that Jesus might be the one of whom Moses spoke.
To solidify this authority, Jesus then drives out the demon (who, astonishingly, presents himself to him). Jesus is teaching with his own authority, which would have been a scandal to many in the synagogue that day, because, like I said, the scribes always backed up their teaching with the teaching of the great master rabbis who went before them. Jesus proves that he has the authority in himself to teach when, by his word, he drives the unclean spirit out from the man.
Even the words of the spirit are telling of Jesus’ authority; and that he is not some “new rabbi”, but truly the prophet of whom Moses spoke. “What have you to do with us? Have you come to destroy us?” Notice how the unclean spirit recognizes the power and authority within Jesus to destroy them. “I know who you are—the Holy One of God!” “The Holy One of God” is an Old Testament title given to the great prophets. Therefore, the spirit is not only acknowledging Jesus’ power and authority, but he is acknowledging him as the prophet of whom Moses spoke. In quieting the spirt and driving it out of the man, Jesus confirmed the spirit’s words. Thus, all in the synagogue were “astonished” and “amazed”.
My friends, if this is the time of fulfillment and Jesus is the prophet of whom Moses spoke, then we must listen to him if we want to experience the fruits that this time will produce. Moses relates the consequences that God himself laid out for those who would not listen to this prophet: “Whoever will not listen to my words which he speaks in my name, I will make him answer for it.” When God says “listen” he doesn’t just mean “hear and consider it”. Rather, he means “obey”, in the sense of “listening so as to respond”. Thus, the statement might as well read: “Whoever will not obey my words which he speaks in my name, I will make him answer for it.” My friends, this is the time of fulfillment and Jesus is the prophet of whom Moses spoke (and more than a prophet, right?), and so we must obey the words that he has spoken, which are God the Father’s words, else we face him on the day of judgment and have to answer for it.
“Okay, Father, I trust you. But the problem is that God doesn’t speak to me.” Bzzzt. False. Let me assure you that God’s words are readily available to you, in three different ways. Number 1: the Bible. The Bible is God’s Word, inspired and protected by the Holy Spirit, and it is living and effective for us today. If we are going to answer for having obeyed God’s words, these are the first ones to which God is going to point. Number 2: the teachings of the Church. It is the Church, guided by the Holy Spirit, who has preserved and proclaimed the Word of God throughout the generations and thus who has authentically presented it to and interpreted it for each passing generation. My friends, the Bible and the Catechism are the two primary ways that you will hear God’s words spoken to you. Obeying (that is, listening with a readiness to respond to) these words is the first step towards realizing the fruit of this time of fulfillment.
The third way that God’s words come to us, however, is in the silence of our hearts. Here, God speaks to us directly and personally. To hear God’s words in this way is more challenging, because we have to tune the ears of our heart to hear his voice. Nonetheless, it is a work that we must do; and the only way that we will do it is if we listen for his voice in silence. When we do, we will begin to hear it. It will be the voice that speaks with authority. It will be the voice that echoes the revelation of the Scriptures and the teachings of the Church. It will be the voice that urges you to give yourself for others. You will know the voice of the enemy: he is the one who sows confusion, discord, and discouragement. God’s voice brings clarity, unity, and encouragement. And it is available to us, right now: we need only ask to hear it.
Then, of course, we must obey it. What do we get when we obey Jesus’ voice? Well, nothing short than his power working in our lives. This means, the power of this “time of fulfillment” in which the negative forces (that is, the unclean spirits) that affect us can be driven away; and when they aren’t: we receive the strength either to overcome them or persevere through them. Friends, Jesus is the Son of God, the one of whom Moses spoke, and he has ushered in the “time of fulfillment” in which has come this “new teaching with authority”. In a world full of talking heads full of hot air claiming their own authority but having no power to fulfill anything, let us listen to the Word of God, Jesus our Lord, so that his kingdom—the kingdom that will be fully realized in the age of glory—would be made present to us here today.
Given at All Saints Parish: Logansport, IN – January 27th & 28th, 2018