Written by Nicholas King SJ
Tuesday, 06 March 2012 09:06
• Deuteronomy 18:15-20
• Psalm 95:1-2, 6-9
• 1 Corinthians 7:32-35
• Mark 1:21-28
How do you know when God is speaking to you? The first lesson has to be that God is faithful; the second is that God can act in decisive, not to say overwhelming, ways. This is the message that emerges from next Sunday’s readings. In the first reading, Moses is talking, in reflective mode, towards the end of his life, about what God is proposing to do, and promising that after his death there will be “a prophet from among your own, like me”.
And they must obey him. Moses reminds them that this is because they were so frightened at hearing God’s voice and seeing God’s fire. So the ever-faithful God warns them, “I shall put my words in his mouth; and if anyone does not listen to my words which he will speak in my name – I shall myself make him answer for it.” And, in the same breath, the prophet is warned that if he does not perform this task, “he shall die”. It is a serious task, this of speaking on God’s behalf.
The psalm for next Sunday is a cheerful song of joy to “YHWH, the Rock of our salvation”, and shows no hesitation in inviting us all to “come before his face in thanksgiving”. At the same time, God is far above us, and so we are to “bow low before him, and kneel in YHWH’s presence, who made us”, even though there is the same intimacy between God and the people of God as between “a shepherd” and “the sheep of his pasture”. As always, however, there is a warning to heed: “Do not harden your hearts as at Contention, as on the Day of Testing in the desert”. We respond thoughtfully to this hymn.
In the second reading, Paul is still trying to work out a doctrine of marriage that will make sense to the Corinthians. Above all he wants this rather difficult group to be alert to the Lord, “how to please the Lord”, and he is aware of how even good things like marriage can distract us from the Lord’s service. Our task is to do what is “proper and devoted to the Lord, without distraction”.
As the gospel for next Sunday powerfully demonstrates, God speaks through Jesus. Notice what this does for Jesus’ message. See, first, the confidence with which Jesus and his little party “enter Capernaum. And immediately on the Sabbath, he entered the synagogue and started to teach”. Then we hear the first comments, and the all-important verdict that he speaks “like one who has authority, and not like the scribes”. The verdict is even offered (perhaps reluctantly) by the opposition. For “immediately there was a man with an unclean spirit, and crying out…”. We should listen attentively to what the demon says, “What have you to do with us, Jesus the Nazarene? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are, the Holy One of God”. It should be said at this point that part of the way to get power over demons is to name them, and that is what the demon is trying to do to Jesus. But it cannot work, as Jesus simply gives the orders. “Be silent, and come out of him”. The last kick of the dying horse is that “the unclean spirit convulsed him, and crying out a great cry went out of him”. We listen and watch as the spectators draw their own conclusions, “They all marvelled, so that they argued with each other saying, ‘What is this? A new teaching with authority! He even commands the unclean spirits – and they obey him!’” That word “authority” says it all. This is the voice of God, showing up the shabby ineffectuality of all that is opposed to God. The obvious solution has to be that this is indeed “the prophet like Moses” whom our first reading promised; and so we are not at all surprised to hear that “his reputation went out immediately everywhere, to the whole surrounding region of Galilee”. When God speaks, people get to notice it.