JANUARY 28TH, 2018: FOURTH SUNDAY OF THE YEAR
Moses spoke to all the people, saying:
"A prophet like me will the LORD, your God, raise up for you
from among your own kin;
to him you shall listen.
This is exactly what you requested of the LORD, your God, at Horeb
on the day of the assembly, when you said,
'Let us not again hear the voice of the LORD, our God,
nor see this great fire any more, lest we die.'
And the LORD said to me, 'This was well said.
I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their kin,
and will put my words into his mouth;
he shall tell them all that I command him.
Whoever will not listen to my words which he speaks in my name,
I myself will make him answer for it.
But if a prophet presumes to speak in my name
an oracle that I have not commanded him to speak,
or speaks in the name of other gods, he shall die.'"
Brothers and sisters:
I should like you to be free of anxieties.
An unmarried man is anxious about the things of the Lord,
how he may please the Lord.
But a married man is anxious about the things of the world,
how he may please his wife, and he is divided.
An unmarried woman or a virgin is anxious about the things of the Lord,
so that she may be holy in both body and spirit.
married woman, on the other hand,
is anxious about the things of the world,
how she may please her husband.
I am telling you this for your own benefit,
not to impose a restraint upon you,
but for the sake of propriety
and adherence to the Lord without distraction.
Then they came to Capernaum,
and on the sabbath Jesus entered the synagogue and taught.
The people were astonished at his teaching,
for he taught them as one having authority and not as the scribes.
In their synagogue was a man with an unclean spirit;
he cried out, "What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth?
Have you come to destroy us?
I know who you are—the Holy One of God!"
Jesus rebuked him and said,
"Quiet! Come out of him!"
The unclean spirit convulsed him and with a loud cry came out of him.
All were amazed and asked one another,
"What is this?
A new teaching with authority.
He commands even the unclean spirits and they obey him."
His fame spread everywhere throughout the whole region of Galilee.
The first miracle Jesus works in each gospel is very significant. The evangelist deliberately chooses it not only to set the tone for his whole gospel, but to especially tell us what we, as other Christs, should be doing to imitate the person whose ministry we’re carrying on. That’s certainly the case with today’s Marcan pericope.
There’s more to Jesus exorcising a demoniac than might appear at first glance. Jesus’ earthly contemporaries thought demons were the source of more than just moral evils. Besides sins, they caused all sorts of sicknesses and other physical and psychological evils. If it’s bad, a demon must somehow be behind it.
No telling exactly what kind of demon possessed the man in the Capernaum synagogue on that fateful Saturday. But it was sharp enough to realize that Jesus of Nazareth was intent on “destroying us” one demon at a time. In other words, Mark’s Jesus conceived of his ministry as a force to eradicate evil.
That means we who follow him and are committed to carrying on his work are expected to buy into his dream. Before anything else, we, like him, should be destroyers of evil, no matter how or where we encounter it. We need only read the rest of Mark’s gospel to see how he accomplishes this step by step, until at the end he completely gives himself and eventually comes back as a totally new creation.
The problem in getting rid of evil is two-fold. How do we know what evil to attack, and how do we eradicate it? Today’s first reading supplies us with the first answer: prophets.
Our biblical authors presume a person of faith can’t get by without prophets in his or her life. They’re the community’s conscience. That’s why Yahweh’s people panic when Moses – the prophet par excellence – is about to die. How will they continue to know what Yahweh wants them to do?
Though some interpret Yahweh’s promise to raise up another “prophet like (Moses) from among their kin” as applying to just one special, specific prophet, the original readers of Deuteronomy seem to have interpreted the promise as Yahweh’s guarantee that there will always be other prophets in their lives. God won’t let them fly blind.
Not being biblically oriented, many of us believe Jesus simply set up an institution – the Roman Catholic Church – which tells us through its infallible decrees what God wants of us, pointing out which evils to exterminate. Certainly we should expect the church to be prophetic, but what happens when the evil we encounter actually comes from the church? The late Carroll Stuhlmueller often mentioned that throughout history the community’s prophets have rarely been members of the hierarchical structure. It’s possible a pope or bishop could be a prophet – e.g. Pope Francis – but prophecy usually isn’t one of their gifts. Carroll was convinced the prophets God sends are almost always “outsiders.” That’s why it’s essential to know the classic five (or six) rules for separating real prophets from fake prophets. (Another day, another commentary.)
Though the institution rarely is prophetic, it does have a role. After prophets surface the evils to be destroyed, institutional administrators should point out the practical ways to eradicate them. Carroll was convinced prophets make lousy administrators. When put in administrative positions, prophets will quickly frustrate everyone around them. That’s not their gift.
Paul, for instance, in today’s second reading, prophetically points out that the risen Jesus wants us free from anxieties. Most Christians today, though, wouldn’t agree with his “celibacy conclusion” as a way to accomplish such tranquility. It might have made sense when the Parousia was thought to be just around the corner, but 2,000 years later . . . .
We need both prophets and administrators.