Deuteronomy 18:15-20; Psalm 94; 1Corinthians 7:32-35; Mark 1:21-28
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Fr Galadima Bitrus, OSA:
Prophetic Responsibility and Accountability
Last Sunday, we celebrated the word of God and its salvific effects. Today, the readings focus on the role of the prophet. The prophet (Greek profetes, translating the Hebrew nabi), is God’s spokesperson or messenger, a vocation that was a great privilege; for only the prophet could behold and hear God directly without risking to die. But it was also a great responsibility requiring the highest sense of accountability.
In the 1st Reading (Deuteronomy 18:15-20), Moses assures the Israelites of the continuous presence of a prophetic figure among them, one who would mediate God’s word to the people, just as Moses himself.
Unlike the judges whose continuity was assured by professional training (see Deut 16:18-20), or the Levitical Priests whose continuity was assured by tribal membership (see Deut 18:1-8), the continuity of the prophet was assured by divine election: “The Lord your God will raise up a prophet from among your own people, like myself” (Deut 18:15). Moses exhorts the people, therefore, to listen to the prophet (Deut 18:15b.19).
While the prophet, by virtue of his divine election, enjoys independence from all institutions and is able to challenge them, his role is not arbitrary. He must speak only what the Lord has commanded him and must not speak presumptuously in the name of the Lord or in the name of other gods; doing so makes him punishable by death (v.20).
The promise of a prophet like Moses led to the expectation of the Messiah as a new Moses and the perfect prophet. In the New Testament period, this expectation was seen to have found fulfillment in Jesus Christ (see Jn 1:21.45; 6:14; 7:40; Acts 3:22-26; 7:37).
The emphasis on God raising a prophet like Moses who mediated God’s word to the people contrasts with the model of prophets generally obtainable in ancient Near Eastern cultures, as basically diviners, their prophetic oracles emanating from other deities or dead spirits, or from skilled manipulation of objects, or even from the prophet’s own reflections. The promised prophet is to be a faithful conveyor of the Lord’s words, speaking exclusively the words of the Lord: “I will put my words in his mouth” (Deut 18:18b; cf Jeremiah 1:9; Ezekiel 2:9-3:3).
The 2nd Reading (1 Corinthians 7:32-35) is part of Paul’s honest evaluation of married life and celibacy, in response to some of the questions the Corinthians had written him seeking clarifications. The ruler with which Paul measures these issues and offers his honest perspective is a preoccupation with pleasing the Lord, securing undivided devotion to the Lord and freedom from anxieties.
In Paul’s advice, he notes how before anything else, the married man is preoccupied with whether or not he is pleasing his wife, and the married woman whether or not she is pleasing her husband. In this case, pleasing the Lord risks taking the 2nd place or at least having a legitimate rival, hence, one may find him/herself treading the delicate balance between two primary loyalties. This can be a source of great anxiety when the two are making opposing demands.
Truly, there are moments your wife or your husband may demand of you something which does not tie well with your faith conviction. Those moments can come with anxiety and worry and need to be handled prayerfully, with discernment and utmost carefulness.
The unmarried man or woman has as his major preoccupation whether or not s/he is pleasing the Lord. Period! Paul points this out clearly, not because he is opposed to marriage but to let the believer understand its demands and challenges and, as the passage puts it, “to promote good order” (v.35b). In fact, he clearly states: “Are you bound to a wife? Do not seek to be free. Are you free from a wife? Do not seek a wife. But if you marry, you do not sin, and if a virgin marries, she does not sin. Yet those who marry will experience distress in the flesh” (vv. 27-28). Nothing can be franker than this.
In the same chapter Paul also points out the demands and challenges of a celibate life, advising those who cannot practice self-control to better marry (1 Cor 7:1.8-9.36).
In the final analysis, the 2ndreading encourages us, whether we are married or celibate, to secure an undivided devotion for the Lord and let Him occupy the first place in the agenda of our lives.
In the Gospel (Mark 1:21-28), Jesus is presented as the most authoritative mediator of God’s word, teaching it with uncommon authority that conveys not just God’s words but also their salvific power, capable of redeeming us from the negative power of unclean spirits which are agents of suffering and death, and restoring us to life, the very purpose for which God speaks.
God brings about life by his word. By his word, he redeems us from the threatening forces of unclean spirits, just as the possessed man was.
May we, as the Psalmist exhorts us, open and not harden our hearts to the life-giving word of God given to us through the ages and revealed more fully in Jesus Christ in whom God’s word became flesh and dwelt among us with its power and splendour.
Fr. Daniel Evbotokhai:
The central theme in today’s liturgy is the divine authority. Authority is the power or right to give orders, make decisions, and enforce obedience. The concept of authority rarely appears in the Old Testament. It is mainly used in the New Testament as exousia which is translated as not just authority but power. One may have the power to do something but lacks the authority to perform that act. Jesus had both authority and power. In the gospel, he manifested the authority to teach and the power to heal. In the first reading Moses speaks with authority, he makes us to understand that the authority of a true prophet comes from God. In the second reading, St. Paul exercises his God-given authority in teaching the people in Corinth about marriage. What do we do with authority today?
We all exercise authority one way or the other. Either as teachers, preachers, spiritual leaders, political leaders or as guardians. In using authority we easily forget the source of our authority – God himself. This is what has lead to the abuses we see today. The abuse of authority has made a lot of people to detest those in authority. Some people think that authority is synonymous to shouting and so you hear things like “your voice is not authoritative”. Many of us think this way. Beloved, authority does not come from the loudest voice but from the wisest voice. Jesus preached with authority not because he was shouting but because he was communicating wisdom and the gospel says his teaching made deep impression on them. You can’t impress people by shouting but by teaching wisdom.
In this sense we can talk about the two kinds of authority. We have the Positional Authority and the Relational Authority. The Positional Authority occurs where people expect to be respected because of their position. This is the authority of the scribes. They were position conscious and most times they had nothing to offer. Positional Authority is expressed in passive-aggressive behaviours such as; being hostile or suspicious, acting stubbornly, blaming others, deliberately shutting down issues they don’t like to discuss, they deny what they feel – when they are angry they tell you they are not angry, they complain about being unappreciated. Jesus denounced positional authority Phil. 2:6 says being God, he did not consider equality with God something to be grasped.
On the other hand, Jesus acted out of Relational Authority. These are leaders, who seek to be transparent about their mission and vision, for them authority is service. Their position of authority does not stop them from relating with people. They still visit you as a friend or family member; you can still eat from the same plate and can still argue things out freely. So, when Mark says, “[Jesus] taught them as one having authority”, that authority reflects Relational Authority; he was humble and deeply human and people met him in their humanity. Since they were used to those who taught them out of positional authority the gospel says they were astounded at the teaching of Jesus.
Again, Jesus did not use his authority to rule the people rather he used it to lead the people. For Jesus, authority was for service. He used his authority to set them free. He said to the unclean spirit “Be silent and come out of him!” We need to use our God-given authority to set others free. As teachers we need to use our authority to set people free from ignorance; as secular leaders we need to use our authority to build the society and build lives. Many people in position of authority have made lasting impression that cannot be erased in generations to come. Often times when we swing the pendulum to the cradle we are ever grateful to some of our teachers and parents, grandparents; we are grateful to that uncle, to that rector or to that priest. Why? Because of the way their care and use of authority made us. Beloved, if your position is not serving needs. it is swerving rights
More so, in the first reading we are given the example of Moses as an authentic prophet who taught the people with authority. Moses knew his people and gave them the key to genuine authority – he told them about the coming of a prophet who will speak in the name of God. The prophet is Jesus. Therefore the name of Jesus is the given authority. To prepare the people’s mind against all dangers God himself warned that any prophet who presumes to speak a word in his name which he the Lord has not commanded shall die. Again, anyone who speaks in the name of other gods shall equally die. Beloved, we must not confuse the rightful authority. Today, many people are speaking, many claim that God has spoken to them – using the name of the Lord in vain, others are using other names. The bible says they shall die. Death here is not just physical death but eternal damnation. Therefore, it behooves us to know that the name of Jesus is the only authorized name or title. Acts 4:12 says the name Jesus is the only name given by which we must be saved. Any other names you hear in churches today are indications that such assemblies are not of God.
Again, Moses had to specify that the one that is coming must be a prophet like him. This is because he probably understands the harm of bad teachers and false prophets. Christianity has been bastardized today because of the tragedy of false prophets and bad teachers. In the second reading St. Paul taught the people clearly on marriage and Celibacy. Rather than confusing them he convinced them that both are vocations from God and that we must free ourselves from anxieties. Thus, each in their respective status must seek holiness of life. Today many teachers and preachers have confused their followers; nothing is sinful in their eyes; some churches don’t even know that the way they dress can be sinful (Prov7:10). Beloved, all of us must not teach or preach. James 3:1 says let not many of you become teachers for they that teach shall be judged with a greater judgment. Beloved, like the response to today’s psalm let us not harden our heart as we hear his word.
Fr. Paul Oredipe:
The Authority of Jesus, our Gift and Challenge – our Audacity
“What is this? A new teaching! With authority he commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey him.” Today, the focus is clearly on authority. What do we mean when we speak about the authority of the Lord? What do we mean when we talk about authority in general? What ways do we exercise authority? What ways do we exercise the authority of the Lord?
In this first incident that Mark records, we discover that Jesus is first of all the fulfillment of what we heard in the first reading today, where God promised through Moses that there would be the one called “the prophet” who at some point would come and be God’s spokesperson far beyond all the other prophets of all the Old Testament or the Jewish history.
Jesus differs from Moses in that the authority Moses exercised came from on high, but for Jesus it came from within. Jesus exercises His authority directly. In one place, He says, “I know what Moses said to you, but I say to you.” He does not refer His ability to exercise authority to another, rather, as the Gospel shows, “All who looked on were amazed. A completely new teaching in a spirit of authority.”
Jesus reveals through His use of absolute authority, His true identity and mission. The authority of Jesus consisted in among other things that His words were facts and His facts were infallible proofs of God’s love for man and God’s presence among men. The authority of Jesus was that His words communicated God’s word and presence and power. His words raised up men’s hearts and eyes to see and understand God’s love for them and God’s presence among them.
Christ’s effortless authority was impressively contrasted. Unlike the shamans of His day, He needed no ritual incantations. With a simple command, He frees the sufferer from the evil spirit. “Be silent. Come out of him.” It was this effortless control over the supernatural sphere which astonished the crowds. He was clearly on a far superior level from the demon He cast out. His amazing powers marked Him out as one who came from a different world. He had authority of a new and irresistible kind. Even the unclean spirits obey Him.
Jesus was authority incarnate – the Word of God made flesh. When He spoke, God spoke. When He commanded, even the demons obeyed.
Jesus teaches from the heart. He teaches with absolute conviction in His message because He knows that His message is in accordance with the mind of God.
His preaching is a personal testimony of His intimate relationship with God, His Father. The scribes, on the other hand get their knowledge not from their personal communion with God but from their long and intricate study of commentaries on the Law. As a result, most of their teaching is from the head and not from the heart, as they try to recall the portions of the commentaries that apply to the situation at hand.
A second difference between the teaching of Jesus and that of the scribes lies in the content of the message. Whereas the scribes seek to apply the prescription of the Law to the letter, Jesus goes deeper to find out the spirit, the original intent of the law.
Consequently, Jesus is able to discover the positive value that the law seeks to protect whereas the scribes busy themselves with words and their minutest applications.
The final difference between the teaching of Jesus and that of the scribes we shall consider is that Jesus’ teaching is always intended to bring about a positive change of heart in the people, not just to make the people feel bad. Whereas the scribes teach whatever makes sense in terms of their understanding of the law and traditions, Jesus teaches that which made a positive difference.
Presented with a man blind from birth, the scribes seek to explain why he is blind — whether it was he who sinned or his parents. Jesus, on the other hand, is only interested in curing the blindness. For this reason, Jesus performed healings and exorcisms together with His teaching, to show that His primary concern is to change the human situation, not just to explain it.
It was just the opposite with Jesus. He had none of those external trappings of authority, of power, of prestige. No wonder, it is so surprising because Jesus does not have any title. He is not a rabbi. He does not have any office. He does not have any particular status. He does not have any great prestige or wealth — things that ordinarily we think give people authority, give them power. None of that, but He was authentic. He lived what He taught. He said, “I came not to be served but to serve,” and He was a servant for all. He did not want the first places. He did not expect to have people falling all over Him, glorifying Him. No, He was very authentic and so His message was spoken with clarity, with power. His integrity was very obvious.
So, if we are going to be prophetic, follow Jesus, we have to make sure that our lives are as authentic as possible. Surely, we are not going to be perfect, but we cannot pretend to be something we are not. We have to be authentic. We need to have integrity and honesty when we speak, when we act.
And so, that is the first thing I think we learn as we begin to discover how to follow Jesus, that we must be prophetic, but we speak with an integrity. The authenticity that commands will draw people to follow. That is how Jesus did it, not with office, not with power, not with titles, not with wealth. None of that. The truth of who He is, is what gives Him power. And that is how each of us has to be, as authentic as possible.
If you think about what is happening in our world right now, where we might have to be prophetic, with authenticity, with integrity, or with power against evil, there are a number of places where it seems we can turn to look or where evil is present and we have to speak out against it and also act to change it for better.
One of them is in our private and public lives, then in the lives of our family members and friends, also in the lives of people around us, in fact in everything around us.
But, if we are going to follow the way of Jesus, we have to remember, He said, “Follow me,” and He spoke against the religious leaders of His day. He had to because there was evil there. He confronted it. He denounced it. He condemned it, and He helped to bring about reconciliation. This is what we must do, it seems to me, if we are going to follow the prophetic way of Jesus. We must discover evil, we must confront it, but we must do it in a compassionate and loving way, aware of our own weaknesses and failings. Not as someone arrogant and above others.
Jesus always was understanding and loving and knew or reached out to those who were hurt and reconciled them without ever being arrogant or without ever looking down upon those who failed. He forgave them.
So, we have to have that same spirit. We must begin, I think, to follow Jesus as faithfully as possible and in our own lives. We have to be as authentic as we can be and then like Jesus our words can have power and have force because they are the words of truth and they will overcome the evil that is in our midst and wherever we discover it, wherever we confront it.
We share in the authority of the Lord to the extent that we are united to the source of this authority. When we are confirmed, we receive the power, the authority, to defeat evil in the world and to lead others to Jesus, the source of all truth. This authority is given to us by God. God can remove this authority and will remove this authority if we refuse to stay intimately united to Him.
Those who are not in touch with the Lord through prayers, those who are not people of conscience and truth could on no ground be figures of authority. Such have no source of inspiration; they have no fountain from which to draw. The words they speak are bound to be empty and false, with neither force nor depth. Such were the scribes and pharisees of the Gospel. They taught without authority and their speech made no impression on the people.
A true prophet sees things as they are, hears God speak, and announces God’s words (not his own ideas) to his people. A prophet’s role is to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable. What is our attitude to the word of God we hear? Do we allow it to challenge us and bring about a positive difference in our lives or is it simply to satisfy some intellectual curiosity? If it is the gospel of Jesus that we hear, then we cannot hear it week after week and remain the same.
We need to have union with God so we can bring His authority, His power to the world.
People want to witness the Word of God present in our lives, and then choose to make the Word of God present in their own lives. We can do this. We can make Jesus’ presence real for others. We have the authority to do this. People want to learn how to live their lives in such a way that when they conclude their lives they can stand before the Lord saying that they have made His presence known in the world. We can do this. We have the authority, the power, to form others into Christian faithful and leaders. We have the authority, the courage, boldness and even power of Jesus Christ if only we stay united to Him.
Today we pray that we may remain united to the Lord, the source of the power and the authority we have received.
We are “other Christ”. We too can teach, if not by word of mouth and with the authority of Jesus, then surely by our bearing, our disposition, by the kind of joyous lives we lead. All teaching reveals not only one’s mind but also one’s heart. If our minds and hearts are filled with Christ, we become His voice to all we meet. What Jesus did in today’s gospel, He wants to continue to do in His Church, and we are the Church.
In the time of Christ, “they were all amazed, so that they questioned among themselves, saying, “What is this? A new teaching. With authority he commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey him.” What is our own response or reaction today, even as you listen?
The Authority of Jesus is indeed our gift and challenge; it is also our courage (audacity). Let us thank God for this great gift and ask that we may carry it through in our words and works.
“O that today you would listen to his voice! Harden not your heart.”
“O that today you would listen to his voice! Harden not your heart.”
“O that today you would listen to his voice! Harden not your heart.”