FOURTH SUNDAY

Ordinary Time – Cycle B

 

“The people were so astonished that they started asking each other what it all mean.  

‘Here is a teaching that is new and with authority behind it’!” (Mk 1,27).

Dt 18, 15-20

1 Cor 7, 32-35

Mk 1, 21-28

 

           One of the most fascinating experiences of which the Bible gives witness is prophecy.  The prophets are men of God, that are raised up above all, in the great epochs of crisis and transition in Israel, that know how to read in profundity the signs of the times and that, thanks to their particular harmony with God, can animate the faith of the people and announce new ways for the future.  The Christian faith recognizes the prophets as great men of the Spirit and of the Word.  Every Sunday in the Eucharistic assembly, in effect, we proclaim “We believe in the Holy Spirit that has spoken through the prophets”.  The biblical readings of this Sunday revolve around the theme of the prophetic charism: the ancient Deuteronomic Code delineates the figure of the ideal prophet in the likeness of Moses (first reading); Paul speaks like a prophet offering to the Corinthian community a light and new meaning for their behavior (second reading); Mark gives witness to Jesus, the perfect prophet in that he is the definitive Word of God (Gospel).

           The first reading (Dt 18, 15-20), taken from the so called Deuteronomic Code (Dt 12, 1-26,15), offers a type of definition of the prophet:  “I shall put my words into his mouth and he will tell them everything I command them” (Dt 18, 18).  The prophet is the man of the Word.  From his mouth overflows the words of God.  It could be affirmed that the prophetic word rises up from the obedience to the command to speak that is received from God.  The prophet does not possess any particular distinction, he is one “from their own brothers” (v. 18), neither does he begin his ministry by means of any religious ceremony.  God himself raises up the prophet through the communication of his Word.  In this way, the prophet is converted in an instant of authority that is above others.  To listen to the prophet is as normative as to listen to God.  “Anyone who refuses to listen to my words, spoken by him in my name, will have to render an account to me” (v. 19).  And the success of the prophet is not so much in being welcomed or listened to by the rest, but in being faithful to the call of God that has ordered him to speak:  “But the prophet who presumes to say something in my name which I have not commanded him to say, or who speaks in the name of other gods, that prophet must die” (Dt 18, 20).

The Prophet “similar to Moses” (Dt 18,15), does not only represent the ideal physiology of the prophets and his ministry, but that this figure came to be utilized to interpret the figure of the Messiah, that was seen not like a victorious king nor like a priest, but as a messenger of God, called to proclaim the Word and capable of also risking his life for the Word.  In the time of Jesus, this idea was widespread of the Messiah like a prophet of God.  Elijah’s return was awaited (Mt 11, 4) of Jeremiah’s (Mt 16,4).  For this reason, the Jews of Jerusalem sent a commission of priests and Levites to the place where John the Baptist was to ask him:  “Then are you Elijah?…Are you the prophet?” (Jn 1,21).

           The second reading (1 Cor 7, 32-35) is an extract of Pauline catechesis about the different states of life in which the Christian can live his or her faith in the Lord.  In verse 24 of this same chapter of the first letter to the Corinthians, Paul gives the key for interpreting all of his discourse:  “Each one of you brothers, is to stay before God in the state in which you are called”.  The Christian faith does not enter into contradiction neither with marriage nor with virginity.  In Corinth, some exalted persons would guise to present the faith as an anti-social reality nourished by irrational fanaticism.  For Paul, no state of life, considered it itself, is identified with perfection, that is reached only by means of charity.  For this reason, alike before where he has valued matrimony (vv. 1-6), now exalts the value of virginity, that is founded not on a negative consideration of the body or of sex, but in that it supposes a full and total donation of the person to the Kingdom of God and one’s brothers and sisters:  “An unmarried man can devote himself to the Lord’s affair, all he need worry about is pleasing the Lord” (v. 32), while “the married man has to bother about the world’s affairs and devote himself to pleasing his wife:  he is torn in two ways” (vv. 33-34).  The value of virginity or celibacy for the Kingdom is not in a simple physiological fact, but in the complete and universal giving that it supposes and permits.  The celibate for the Kingdom is only authentic if it is nourished and expressed through a love without limits nor preferences.  For this reason, it is an eschatological sign that reveals the condition of the fullness of the Kingdom, when “men and women do not marry; no, they are like the angels in heaven” (Mt 22,30).

           The Gospel (Mk 1, 21-28) presents the beginning of the ministry of Jesus in the synagogue of Capernaum immediately after the call of the first disciples.  Mark insists above all on the “quality” of Jesus’ word.  At the beginning and end of the text the same theme is underlined:  “and his teaching made a deep impression on them because…he taught them with authority (Greek:  exousía, literally: “from his being”), unlike the scribes” (v. 22); “The people were so astonished that they started asking each other what it all mean.  ‘Here is a teaching that is new and with authority behind it’ (Greek: exousía) !” (v. 27).  Jesus teaches in the synagogue and precisely there, in the ordinary place of the proclamation of the word of Israel’s Law, his word resounds new and full of authority.  The word of Jesus is an authentic word that is born in the intimacy of his heart and is expressed coherently in his works.  For this reason, it causes astonishment and stupor.  Jesus has dignified the value of the world, that is authentic only when it is true and when it is pronounced for the good of men and women.  However, his word is above all the full prophetic word.  Because Jesus is the definitive Word of God; its newness and authority comes from the fact that he is the Son that reveals the mystery of the Father and of his Kingdom.   As John affirms in the ultimate verse of the prologue of his Gospel:  “No one has ever see God; it is the only Son, who is close to the Father’s heart, who has made him known (Greek:  exegéomai)” (Jn 1, 18).  The Prophet Jesus is the true “exegete” of the Father.

           For Mark, Jesus is the Messiah-Prophet that speaks in a surprising and effectual way.  For this reason, he narrates the episode of the man freed from an unclean spirit in the synagogue at Capernaum (Mk 1, 23-26).  Jesus places himself over the reality of evil that has the man oppressed.  With his powerful word he returns the man to his dignity, like a new creation, evoking the powerful word of Yahweh that in the beginning was imposed over the original chaos giving origin to everything that exists (Gn 1, 1-3).  The presentation that Mark makes of Jesus as an effective prophet, authentic spokesperson of God, does not exhaust completely the Christology of the first Gospel.  For Mark, Jesus will be recognizable to him only on the cross.  All of his Messianic power is manifested in the measure when he is the weakest, rejecting the violence of men and women and giving himself entirely in love, until dying as a condemned, thus “the Son of man himself came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (10, 45).  For this reason, Jesus proclaims the Word and at the same time, imposes silence on those that would attempt to reveal his identity, manipulating or distorting it.  To the unclean spirit, that identifies him as “the Holy One of God”, Jesus reprimands him:  “Be quiet!” (v. 25).  The authentic knowledge of Jesus does not come from the fame of his miracles nor is it founded on extraordinary signs, but is the fruit of the humble acceptance of the scandal of the cross.

           Jesus is “the Prophet” that had to come, “like Moses” (first reading).  He is prophet par excellence, in his word and in his works.  With  his word he announces the mystery of God as “Gospel” as “good news” for men and women, speaking with the authority of the Son that lives in full harmony with the Father; with his works Jesus reveals himself as the Messiah that liberates man and woman from their miseries and slavery, he is the prophet that reconstructs the original dignity of the human person.  The biblical message of this Sunday is two-fold:  on one hand, it reminds us that the relationship of the believer with Jesus is fundamentally a relationship of “listening”:  for the Christian to live is to listen to the word of Jesus the Prophet and put it into practice; on the other hand, it invites us to be award of the urgency and necessity of the prophetic charism today:  the Christian is prophet by vocation and is called with his word and works to reveal the ways of God and to condemn all that is opposed to the mystery of the Kingdom of life proclaimed by Jesus.