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Breath of the Spirit

Pastoral, Liturgical, Teaching, and Social Justice Moments brought to you by DignityUSA.

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The normal biblical way of surfacing God’s will is to surface the prophets in our midst and listen to them. 

FEBRUARY 1, 2015: FOURTH SUNDAY OF THE YEAR

Readings:

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

When asked, “What was Jesus’ first miracle?” most Christians will respond, “Changing water into wine at Cana in Galilee.” That’s correct – if you’re dealing with John’s gospel. But no other evangelist even mentions that miracle.

Gospel miracles are always important, not because the gospel authors expect their readers to “ooh and aah” over Jesus’ supernatural powers, but because miracles give us an insight into what the historical Jesus of Nazareth was about, and on what levels we’re to imitate and surface the risen Jesus in our daily lives. Each evangelist carefully picks the miracles he narrates.

This is especially true of each gospel’s first miracle. That specific wondrous action usually sets the theme for the entire gospel. It tells the reader what Jesus of Nazareth is all about.

That’s why today’s Marcan pericope is so significant: it narrates his Jesus’ first miracle.

During Jesus’ day, demons were looked upon as being responsible for most of the evil in the world; not just moral, sinful evil, but any evil. If, for instance, I woke up this morning with a bad cold, I could logically presume several cold demons had finagled their way into my body during the night. So if, before Mark’s Jesus does anything else, he exorcises a demoniac, the evangelist is letting us know that the focal point of Jesus’ ministry is the eradication of evil – both moral and physical.

The demon’s question is rhetorical: “What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us?” For followers of Jesus, the answer is a resounding, “Yes!” We’re called to spend a lifetime eradicating as much evil in our world as we possibly can.

Paul, as we hear in our second reading, believes we should remove anything from our lives which could keep us from achieving that goal – even marriage. When he dictates I Corinthians, he still believes Jesus’ Parousia is just around the corner. He reasons it would be foolish to get involved in all that marriage demands if Jesus is coming back in less than a few years. I presume he’d approach the issue differently were he speaking to people living more than 2,000 years after Jesus’ death and resurrection. But even in his day and age he realizes how controversial his advice is. That’s why he ends the passage with the disclaimer, “I am telling you this for your own benefit, not to impose a restraint upon you.” A long term faith forces us to look at marriage from a different perspective than the early church’s short term faith.

But, back to the gospel. How do we know on what evil to concentrate? What are God’s priorities?

Our Deuteronomy author tells us what process to employ: prophets.

The normal biblical way of surfacing God’s will is to surface the prophets in our midst and listen to them.  That’s why the writer makes a big thing of Moses’ death. He’s not only the people’s liberator, he’s also their prophet. He’s their conscience: the person who constantly informs them of the future implications of their present actions. After his death, how will they find out what God wants them to do?

Moses assures his people he’s not the last prophet. “A prophet like me will Yahweh, your God, raise up for you, from among your own kin; to whom shall you listen.” Though some interpret this to mean just one prophet, like Moses, will eventually arise, most believe it simply means every generation will have the prophets it needs.

If we’re to eradicate evil, and we have prophets who are showing us what evil to get rid of, then we’d best learn the rules for distinguishing real prophets from fake prophets. Otherwise we’re going to have problems.

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