Friday, 30 January 2009

4th Sunday in Ordinary Time - Year B

Deuteronomy 18:15-20; 1 Corinthians 7:32-35; Mark 1:21-28

Moses said to the people: I will raise up a prophet like yourself for them from their own brothers; I will put my words into his mouth and he shall tell them all I command him.

Cast your mind back over the gospel incident we have just read and ask yourself ‘What were the words, what was the teaching, that prompted people to marvel at the authority of Christ?'

There were only six words reported: Be quiet, come out of him!

It was not so much what Jesus said but the power with which he said it; his words were full of power; he could do anything with a word.

To a demon, he could say: be quiet, and the demon would be quiet; come out of him, and he would come out.

To the leper: be cured; to the cripple: get up and walk; to the deaf and dumb man: be opened; to the dead Lazarus: come out.

Jesus could also say to a sinner: Your sins are forgiven; to a fig tree: May no fruit ever come from you again; to bread and wine: This is my Body, this is my Blood.

The people were astonished at the words of Jesus. Truly it could be said of him what Isaiah spoke as a revelation of God himself (Is 55:11): …the word that goes from my mouth does not return to me empty, without carrying out my will and succeeding in what it was sent to do.

Jesus’ words have power because they are God’s words which cannot be opposed or sidestepped. This is what left a deep impression on the people.

I will raise up a prophet like yourself for them from their own brothers; I will put my words into his mouth and he shall tell them all I command him.

Jesus is the ultimate fulfilment of this prophecy. Indeed, he fulfils it in a most unexpectedly complete way because Jesus not only speaks the word of God, Jesus IS the Word of God made flesh.

We know all this now but in the synagogue on that Sabbath which the Gospel speaks of, the people were just beginning to discover the true identity of this man.

We heard just now that Jesus and his followers came to Capernaum, and we remember how those men became his followers; Jesus had simply said to them: Follow me, and they followed him.

Now Jesus is confronted with a demon-possessed man. The demon is rather garrulous and noisy (we sense its fear). It shouts 25 words at Jesus who ignores them totally and responds sharply with two: Be quiet. Goodness does not engage in conversations with evil; authority rarely shouts; truth is not verbose.

He orders the demon: Come out of him. There are no long incantations with song and dance, just a simple order: Come out!

I will raise up a prophet like yourself for them from their own brothers; I will put my words into his mouth and he shall tell them all I command him.

The demon leaves the man and the man is free. Jesus’ word is always liberating; it actually gives us the freedom to which it calls us. This is the reason Jesus is greater than the Law, which ordered people to become free through obedience but which, at the same time, could not offer them the power they needed to reach it. Jesus always provides the power to reach the goals he sets us. As the saying goes: His Will will not take you where his grace cannot keep you.

Jesus had spoken to the demon and the demon was constrained to obey. But Jesus’ words were also heard by the people standing round. The word of God is all things for all men; when it is spoken there are no ‘bystanders’.

The man who does not listen to my words that he speaks in my name, shall be held answerable to me for it.

The Word of God cannot be ignored. It can be listened to or it can be disobeyed - but it can never be ignored. That is why Jesus’ word is judgment: …he who rejects me and refuses my words has his judge already: the word itself that I have spoken will be his judge on the last day (John 12:48).

And what is more, Jesus’ word does not make mistakes in judging because, as Hebrews 4:12 tells us: The word of God is something alive and active; it cuts like any double-edged sword but more finely: it can slip through the place where the soul is divided from the spirit, or joints from the marrow; it can judge the secret emotions and thoughts.

Jesus came to draw all men to himself. Note from the last line of the Gospel today that it was his reputation that grew, and this is precisely what the Father wanted. He had sent his Son as Saviour of all mankind and his mission was to gather his flock into one.

And his reputation rapidly spread everywhere, through all the surrounding Galilean countryside.

The word of God is, indeed, alive and active, even today. It is still powerful, liberating, empowering and judging, even today. It comes to each one of us in this Mass, seeking us out, lighting up the hidden, dark places of our soul, determining whether we belong to his flock or not, calling us to become his.

May our astonishment become a simple and total yes.

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