Sunday, Jan. 28, is the Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year B). Mass Readings: Deuteronomy 18:15-20; Psalms 95:1-2, 6-9; 1 Corinthians 7:32-35; Mark 1:21-28.
We have been waiting a long time to hear Jesus Christ. Sunday’s Mass describes why.
Today’s Gospel uses intense language to try to convey just how electrified the crowd was by what Jesus had to say. “The people were astonished by his teaching,” says the Gospel. “What is this? A new teaching with authority.”
You can imagine where the people were before they heard Jesus. They were laboring under Roman rule, with all that we know about that: paying taxes to a government that does objectionable things, crucifixion notably among them.
They were hungry for an authentic expression of their faith, something better than what was offered by the Sadducees, who had cozied up to the Romans, and the Pharisees, who “tie up heavy burdens hard to carry and lay them on people’s shoulders, but will not lift a finger to move them.”
They knew well that they could expect something more. God had promised he would send an authentic teacher to them one day in today’s first reading: “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.”
When Moses first reported those words to the Israelites, they were revolutionary. Before that, people understood the divine to be mysterious gods in the universe that they had to struggle to avoid or to somehow control.
A personal God who joined in their struggles was something new. They saw this in Jesus.
When confronted with demonic possession, Jesus does none of the arduous and extensive exorcism procedures of the day. Instead, he simply says: “Quiet! Come out of him!” And the demons obey. This is clearly a new thing on the earth: a holy man greater than the prophets, able to master the supernatural, and coming to his people.
Here in the 21st century, we are in much the same situation as the Israelites were so long ago.
We don’t live under Roman rule, but we do live in a land that often merely tolerates our religion, while demanding we pay taxes to a government that does objectionable things, legalized abortion chief among them.
We don’t have Sadducees and Pharisees, but we do have competing voices from the extremes of religious experience, one shouting, “Relax your standards and accommodate with the world!” and the other shouting, “Nothing is ever good enough!”
Interrupting both comes the one and only authentic voice of God. You can hear him in the words of St. Paul today: “I should like you to be free of anxieties.” And you can hear him in the Psalm, which says, “If today you hear his voice, harden not your hearts.”
After all the bad alternatives, Jesus Christ has come at last.
Tom Hoopes is writer
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