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FIRST IMPRESSIONS

4th SUNDAY (B) February 1, 2015

Deuteronomy 18: 15-20; Psalm 95; 1Corinthians 7: 32-35; Mark 1: 21-28

by Jude Siciliano, OP

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Dear Preachers:

The book of Deuteronomy is composed as a sermon by Moses. Israel is about to enter the Promised Land and Moses is like a revivalist preacher reminding the people what they have been through and warning them to keep faith in God. The hard journey is over and the land of milk and honey is going to be cushy in comparison. The people won’t need the daily manna God fed them as they traveled through the desert. They are liable then to forget how their daily survival relied totally on God. More – their sense of intimacy with God may become a thing of the past. Isn’t that the same for us? When we are going through a crisis our prayers increase and our awareness of our need of God grows more intense. Then, when we have passed through our desert things go back to "normal" and God seems to take a backseat in our awareness. Other issues press in on us so we turn our attention elsewhere.

Moses is preaching to his people on the banks of the Jordan. They have received the Law from his hands at Sinai (5:3). As we hear Moses speak to the people we are not hearing some old, long-past sermon to another people in a different world. His words are addressed now to us – the church, the new Israel. The Israelites were a chosen people always in need of reform – just like us.

Today’s passage is from the central section of Deuteronomy. It continues "statutes and ordinances" that will govern the Israelites once they have entered the Promised Land. But Moses will not make the crossing with them; something that has always puzzled biblical readers. The people have relied on Moses for so long, what will they do without him? He was their mediator, the voice of God to them. Without Moses, God’s friend and intimate, will God forget them in the next stage of their lives?

Through Moses God makes a promise to the Israelites. It seems that in one way or another, God was always renewing the covenant with them. God promises to provide another prophet like Moses who will be the people’s go-between with God. They will never be on their own; there will always be a mouthpiece speaking to them for God. Who will this spokesperson for God be? It isn’t necessarily one person. God could be promising that there will always be someone to fill Moses’ prophetic role who will not be self-appointed, but will be chosen and raised up by God. The message they have will not be from themselves, but will come from God.

How can you tell a true prophet from a false one? Perhaps only time will tell. But a true prophet will be dependent on God and have the well being of the community as his/her goal.

Imagine the building excitement among the people when Jesus arrived. They had waited long for someone, the one Moses promised, a voice of authority, speaking on God’s behalf. Jesus is in the synagogue teaching "as one having authority." Unlike the scribes, who relied for their authority on the teachings of their predecessors and would begin by saying, "As Moses says," Jesus said, "But I say to you." People noted the difference. Something new was happening, someone had come to them manifesting his own authority. As a sign of his authority Jesus addresses the unclean spirit and drives it out.

Signs of the presence of an evil spirit in a synagogue would have been reason to cast out the person from the assembly. Jesus doesn’t expel the man, instead he utters a word and drives out the spirit. The evil that had disrupted the man’s life and frightened the community has been driven out by "the Holy One of God," – i.e. someone in special relationship with God. God is the source of this good work.

In a small synagogue, in an insignificant town, a cosmic struggle is playing itself out. In that world and in the greater world, evil has seized control and no one is able to do anything about it. Enter Jesus – "The Holy One of God." He confronts the indomitable evil and takes charge of the situation. The people’s response is an echo of what Israel longed for after Moses. "All were amazed and asked one another, ‘Who is this?’ A new teaching with authority."

At this point Jesus won’t let the spirit name him. It’s not about who Jesus is, but it’s his authority. We will have to wait to see how the gospel develops to learn more about who Jesus is. But for now, the fame of this man, who has a "new teaching with authority," is spreading throughout Galilee.

It isn’t hard to find evidence of evil in the world. Politicians claiming our votes promise to deal with crime, violence, drugs, war, etc. It’s also hard not to become cynical. Even if their intentions were the best still, humans suffer at the hands of powerful forces. Doesn’t it seem like evil is winning and even our best efforts are not enough? "Demonic" is an appropriate description of the situation.

Then, one enters who is not intimidated when he confronts the powers of evil. Jesus shows that he is exercising the very power of God. We can be the beneficiaries of this good force Jesus has set loose in the world. He frees us so we can accept the reign of God’s presence that comes with him. There were other exorcists in Jesus’ time. That is not what made him unique in people’s eyes. What make Mark’s account unique is how he links Jesus’ exorcisms with his teaching.

Mark frequently refers to Jesus as a teacher. The "teacher" stills the storm (4:38); raises Jairus’ daughter (5:35); feeds the crowd (6:34), etc. Unlike Matthew, Mark doesn’t spell out what Jesus taught. He focuses on the power behind Jesus’ teaching.

John the Baptist predicted that, "One more powerful than I is to come after me" (1:7). Evil powers are at work in the world’: which abuse the innocent; divide communities; encourage materialism; widen the gap between the rich and the poor; stir up religious fanaticism; enslave young people to drugs, etc. Finally Jesus, the "one more powerful," comes with a word of life: uniting people estranged from one another; raising up peacemakers ready to sacrifice their lives; forgiving sins; healing diseases; stirring people to work for the well-being of creation; restoring broken families and communities. Mark tells us he does this and other great works of power by the authority of his teaching.

Throughout Mark’s gospel Jesus will attract huge crowds because of his authoritative healings. People were in danger of perishing and Jesus came to instruct and lead them to safety. He continued to do that even at the cost of his own life. At this point of the gospel the people are amazed by Jesus. Their amazement must become more than awe and fascination. They will need to discover him as the Son of God and put their faith in him. After his resurrection Jesus’ disciples will realize he wasn’t only a powerful prophet who spoke with authority, but was the personal presence of God in their midst. No wonder when he spoke things happened and people were amazed by his authority.

A little examination of conscience. Who speaks to us with authority? Whose words, guide our spirits and direct our energies? Is it the voice of Pope Francis who expresses concern for the poor, the persecuted and the environment? Do we turn to spiritual guides in our reading? How much sway over us have political parties, blogs and editorials?

Jesus’ word has authority over the evil influences in our world, so where and to whom do we go to hear that word? Does our parish have Bible classes, retreat days, book discussions and religious instruction? When it comes down to it we are responsible to form our conscience according to God’s authoritative word – but who and what helps us do that? The power of evil is very alive and active and only God’s power can help us overcome its many manifestations.

Click here for a link to this Sunday’s readings:

http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/020115.cfm

JUSTICE BULLETIN BOARD

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 .Deuteronomy 18: 18

In Moses’ time, the people were so terrified by the power of the Lord that God pledged to put power in one of their kin (man or woman) to deliver His words. So, it is understandable that the Hebrew word for prophet, nabi, means "a fruit produced from the inside of man, a knowledge of something that is not known by the five senses." The prophet or prophetess is one who brings forth this inner fruit, they intuit the correct action. This can be very unnerving for those who are relying only on sense perception to evaluate things. Fast forward to Jesus’ time and you see people who know Jesus and are now wondering about his actions and how he teaches with authority. What does this all mean to us today? Perhaps, it means that we should be looking beyond the surface of things to get to the real truth. For that, we have to journey inward and examine our own assumptions, world view, and prejudices. What social injustice do you accept as the way things are? Why do you feel this way?

Pope Francis keeps talking about social justice, like the ancient prophets, but are we receiving his teachings, examining them in our hearts, and acting upon them? He writes in Lumen Fidei (15, 17), that, "Christian faith is thus faith in a perfect love, in its decisive power, in its ability to transform the world and to unfold its history. . . . Our culture has lost its sense of God’s tangible presence and activity in our world. We think that God is to be found in the beyond, on another level of reality, far removed from our everyday relationships. But if this were the case, if God could not act in the world, his love would not be truly powerful, truly real, and thus not even true, a love capable of delivering the bliss that it promises. God trusts us to put the love we have received into action to help transform the world.

Edgar Guest, an English-born American poet, writes this simple poem: The things that haven’t been done before Are the tasks worthwhile today; Are you one of the flock that follows, or Are you one that shall lead the way? Are you one of the timid souls that quail At the jeers of a doubting crew, Or dare you, whether you win or fail, Strike out for a goal that’s new

Barbara Molinari Quinby, MPS

Coordinator of Social Justice Ministries Sacred Heart Cathedral--Raleigh NC

FAITH BOOK

Mini-reflections on the Sunday scripture readings designed for persons on the run. "Faith Book" is also brief enough to be posted in the Sunday parish bulletins people take home.

4th SUNDAY (B) February 1, 2015

Deuteronomy 18: 15-20; Psalm 95; 1Corinthians 7: 32-35; Mark 1: 21-28

From today’s Gospel reading:

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."

Reflection:

Who speaks to us with authority? Whose words, guide our spirits and direct our energies? Is it the voice of Pope Francis who expresses concern for the poor, the persecuted and the environment? Or, are we influenced by other "authorities." How much sway over us have political parties, blogs, editorials, the opinion of others. etc? We are responsible to form our conscience according to God’s authoritative word – but who and what helps us do that?

POSTCARDS TO WOMEN DEATH ROW INMATES

"The use of the death penalty cannot really be mended. It should be ended."
Cardinal Theodore E. McCarrick

Inmates on death row are the most forgotten people in the prison system. Each week I post in this space several inmates’ names and addresses. I invite you to write a postcard to one or more of them to let them know we have not forgotten them. If you like, tell them you heard about them through North Carolina’s, "People of Faith Against the Death Penalty." If the inmate responds you might consider becoming pen pals.

Please write to:

  • Carlette Parker #0311386 (On death row since 4/1/99)
  • Blanche T. Moore #0288088 (11/16/90)

NC Correctional Institution for Women - 1034 Bragg Street, Raleigh, NC 27610

For more information on the Catholic position on the death penalty go to the webpage of the Catholic Mobilizing Network: http://www.catholicsmobilizing.org/

DONATIONS

"First Impressions" is a service to preachers and those wishing to prepare for Sunday worship. It is sponsored by the Dominican Friars. If you would like "First Impressions" sent weekly to a friend, send a note to fr. John Boll, OP at the above email address.

If you would like to support this ministry, please send tax deductible contributions to fr. Jude Siciliano, O.P.

St. Albert Priory 3150 Vince Hagan Drive Irving, Texas 75062-4736

Make checks payable to: Dominican Friars. Or, go to our webpage to make an online donation: http://preacherexchange.com/donations.htm

ANNOUNCEMENTS

1. We have compiled Four CDS for sale:

  • Individual CDs for each Liturgical Year, A, B or C
  • One combined CD for "Liturgical Years A, B and C."

If you are a preacher, lead a Lectionary-based scripture group, or are a member of a liturgical team, these CDs will be helpful in your preparation process. Individual worshipers report they also use these reflections as they prepare for Sunday liturgy.

You can order the CDs by going to our webpage: www.preacherexchange.com and clicking on the "First Impressions" CD link on the left.

(These CDs have been updated twice in the last five years.)

2. "Homilías Dominicales" —These Spanish reflections on the Sunday and daily scriptures are written by Dominican sisters and friars. If you or a friend would like to receive these reflections drop a note to fr. John Boll, O.P. at Jboll@opsouth.org or jboll@preacherexchange.org.

3. Our webpage: http://www.preacherexchange.com

Where you will find "Preachers’ Exchange," which includes "First Impressions" and "Homilias Dominicales," as well as articles, book reviews, daily homilies and other material pertinent to preaching.

4. "First Impressions" is a service to preachers and those wishing to prepare for Sunday worship. It is sponsored by the Dominican Friars. If you would like "First Impressions" sent weekly to a friend, send a note to fr. John Boll, OP at the above email address.


Thank you and blessings on your preaching,

fr. Jude Siciliano, O.P.

St. Albert Priory

3150 Vince Hagan Drive

Irving, Texas 75062-4736

frjude@judeop.org

972-438-1626

 


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