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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
(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."
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
POSTCARDS TO WOMEN DEATH ROW
"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
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
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