Depend on the Lord and Be Openhearted to Peace
User’s Guide to Sunday, Jan. 31
Sunday, Jan. 31, is the Fourth Sunday of Ordinary Time (Year B). Mass Readings: Deuteronomy 18:15-20, 10; Psalm 95:1-2, 6-9; 1 Corinthians 7:32-35; Mark 1:21-28.
The first reading from Deuteronomy recalls a speech given by Moses to the Israelites. He reminds them that it was God himself who raised him up in order to lead the Israelites. However, Moses also indicates that the Lord intends to “raise up for them a prophet like you among their kin.” In the Gospel, St. Mark relates Jesus’ teaching in the synagogue, which he does “as one having authority not as the scribes.” Jesus, then, is the new prophet spoken of in Deuteronomy. Yet, while he is like us, he is God and so teaches with total authority.
As is regular in St. Mark’s Gospel, the question he poses to us is how we will respond once we have been confronted by the authority of Christ. If we believe that Jesus is the voice of God, indeed, God himself, then what will we do?
St. Paul provides one way to respond in the second reading. He notes that a married man or woman “is anxious about the things of the world” and about his or her spouse. As such, a married person can be “divided” between the desire to please God and the desire to please one’s spouse. However, an unmarried person “is anxious about the things of the Lord.” Therefore, he or she is undivided.
We know from earlier in this passage in 1 Corinthians and from St. Paul’s other writings on marriage that he is not telling Christians not to marry. Indeed, he says it is good for Christians to marry, and it is a gift (see 1 Corinthians 7:2-7). And we also know that he is not denigrating marriage as though married Christians are somehow less Christian for getting married. It is St. Paul who gives us the foundation of the Church’s beautiful, sacramental theology of marriage after all. (See Ephesians 5:21.)
Therefore St. Paul’s meaning can be taken, as he says, “for your own benefit, not to impose a restraint upon you.” He offers the observation about the married and the unmarried for “adherence to the Lord without distraction.” His aim is to help counsel Christians who seek to answer the question posed by St. Mark about how we will respond to the authority of Jesus. That answer is simply to respond to the Lord with undivided attention as much as we are able.
St. Paul is also noting that, while anxieties are a part of life, they would lessen if we submitted ourselves to the authority of Jesus. Just prior to Moses’ speech in today’s first reading, he tells the Israelites that they must not practice divination, or sorcery, or soothsaying. They must depend on the Lord, and so, too, must we.
Our hope is not in the powers and principalities of this world. Rather, the Christian, married and unmarried, who dedicates his or her life to Jesus will find the peace that he or she seeks. The degree to which we can submit to the authority of the Lord is the degree to which our hearts will be open to the peace which he offers each of us. Then we will be able to say with the Psalmist, “Sing joyfully to the Lord.”