Apr172014
The work of DignityUSA on April 17, 2014 could have been sponsored by you. Click here for more information.

January 29, 2006: FOURTH SUNDAY OF THE YEAR

Readings: 

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

Jesus' death and resurrection was not only an earth-shaking event for him, it provided a parallel experience for his followers. Among other things, it forced them to look from a completely different perspective at the Jesus they had known during his earthly ministry. The prophetic dimension of his personality began to fade into the background of their minds, replaced by something they rarely dared to imagine before Good Friday and Easter Sunday: his divinity. The longer our Christian sacred authors reflected on Jesus, the more they concentrated on the divine and lost contact with the prophetic.

Yet during Jesus' earthly ministry it was his role as prophet which most impressed people. When he asked his disciples how people were judging him, most thought he fit the image of the prophets of old. Being Jews, those with whom Jesus lived and to whom he preached understood the necessity of having prophets in their midst. Yahweh normally worked through prophets. God's will was conveyed to people by God positioning prophets among them.

That's why today's Deuteronomy Reading is so significant. Though we usually think of Moses as a leader and liberator, the community he led and freed from slavery would also have emphasized his prophetic ministry. Like all prophets, he was their conscience: the person who pointed out the future implications of their present actions. Without prophets, they would wander aimlessly through life, uncertain of the direction Yahweh wanted them to go.

As Moses is dying, they're no longer worried about freedom. Moses had been Yahweh's agent in achieving their liberation. That job had been taken care of. What they'd miss most would be Moses' prophetic input in their daily lives. Because of his imminent death, they could only fall back on Yahweh's promise to ". . . raise up for you a prophet like (Moses) from among your kin, and put my words in his mouth . . . ." In other words, God will see to it that they'd always have prophets in their communities.

No wonder Jesus' first disciples often reflected on today's Deuteronomy passage when they tried to figure out the role he was playing in their lives.

Their original emphasis on prophecy seems to be one of the reasons Mark chose an exorcism as Jesus' first miracle. As with the other three gospels, the first miracle sets the evangelist's theme for his work. Because Mark believes Jesus' followers should imitate him, he stresses that the #1 way we're to carry on Jesus' prophetic ministry is by eradicating evil wherever we find it. This is symbolized by Jesus getting rid of the evil demon which controls the man in the Capernaum synagogue. Though it's impossible to imitate Jesus' divinity, whenever we get rid of even the smallest evil in our lives, we're carrying on his human, prophetic ministry.

Even Paul seems to be emphasizing Jesus' prophetic dimension when he writes to the Corinthians about being "anxious about the things of the Lord." The Apostle believes we should let nothing hold us back from pointing our lives in the direction Jesus had pointed his own life.

Of course, when Paul advises people not to let marriage distract them from pursuing good, he's presuming Jesus will quickly return in the Parousia; something few of us presume today. As a good Jew, the Apostle thought no one should live a long, natural life and not be married. But at this point in his ministry, he simply didn't think anyone would live a long, natural life. No matter his beliefs, in verse 35 he still reminds his readers that non-marrying because of the imminent Parousia is simply a suggestion, not a command.

The recently deceased Catholic reformer, Patty Crowley, once perfectly summarized prophetic discipleship. "I say the only important thing is Jesus' message, and the rest of the rules are for the birds. So give food to the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, help the sick and visit those in prison. That's what I do."