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Ordinary Time 4 (B)
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Readings for the Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle B

1. Deuteronomy 18, 15-20

  • Over and over I hear the word prophet in the speech of Moses.  The first mention comes at the beginning of the first sentence, and deserves a pause because it intrudes on us without preparation.  From that point the reading furnishes many definitions and references to help us comprehend Moses’ meaning.
  • His origin is human, like that of Moses himself.  The Lord will raise him up from among your own people.  On the other hand, God will put his words in the prophet’s mouth; he shall tell you all that I command him.  We believe that the word points toward Jesus, who speaks with divine authority in today’s Gospel. 
  • The first time I read it, it sounded like a repeated phrasing of the same idea.  After a few more run-throughs, though, I noticed a gradual development, starting with a request from the people (This is exactly what you requested) and ending with a severe order to speak in my name, with dire consequences for those who will not listen to my words which he speaks and for those who presume to speak in my name. 
  • Who is this God about whom Moses testifies?  Let it be the same loving and caring God who answers the hopes of a people: This was well said.  And it is the God who asks that we take his approach very seriously, as a matter of life and death.  I myself will make him answer for it.
  • Central point: The succinct definition of a prophet and the need to pay attention to his words.
  • Message for our assembly: We must listen carefully to the prophets and teachers of our day.  Let us sing spiritedly the warning in Psalm 95, our responsorial for today: Harden not your hearts.
  • I will challenge myself: To find behind these words the same God in whom we have put our trust, and to find my voice to express for the congregation our gratitude for the gift of so great a prophet.

 

2. I Corinthians 7, 32-35

  • The apostle begins this passage saying: I should like you to be free of anxieties.  This wish forms part of the prayer we pray before the greeting of peace in the mass.  I will let this sentence be the controlling sentence for the reading, because that word anxious appears four more times. 
  • I can’t help wondering about the irony in the apostle’s wish: Free from anxiety? – when whatever state of life to which we aspire will lead us to be anxious about something!  Let’s leave that for the homilist, and let us play it straight.
  • He compares and contrasts unmarried people with married people.  I have to read with understanding, so that my listeners will hear the entire message and not misconstrue it. 
  • I do not hear explicit preference or judgment over the two states of life, only the facts that are clear to everyone, even ourselves.  There are two pairs of contrasts, each a mirror image of the other.  To be anxious about the things of the Lord or anxious about the things of the world, as we know, do not limit either the unmarried (including celibate) or the married in their spiritual alertness.  Paul was realistic enough to know that few could imitate his example; see verse 7.
  • I must be the first to avoid misunderstanding the passage.  There are many words of guidance and caution and I will try to recapture them.  It is for your own benefit, not to impose a restraint. 
  • The apostle’s priority comes out at the end of the passage: for the sake of propriety and adherence to the Lord without distraction.  The passage itself is taken from a long discussion of the proper relation between men and women.  The church of Corinth was taken by extreme lifestyles and quick to judge one as superior to another.  The apostle was addressing that specific church, and in the context of the imminent return of the Lord. 
  • Central point: Each calling in the church has its place and its obligations. 
  • The message for our assembly: According to the apostle, the married have as their first obligation to please each other, the man to please his wife and the woman to please her husband.  Let us laypersons keep in mind this calling above all others.  At the same time we can value an undivided life as essential for keeping the others alert to the Lord’s coming.
  • I will challenge myself: To read with understanding, allowing my listeners to overhear a careful discussion from the early church, pausing as I go and reminding everyone of our higher calling.

 

Gospel. Mark 1, 21-28

  • I have always been impressed with the speed of Mark, how we are thrust into the ministry of Jesus almost from verse 1.  People have already asked whether John was the prophet.  Here they are asking: What is this?  A new teaching with authority. 
  • The passage begins with the Sabbath meetings, where Jesus entered the synagogue and taught, and where the people were astonished at his teaching, for he taught as one having authority.  I want to catch that astonishment in my own words, since I encounter such authority rarely in my own life.  If I get it right, I can help my listeners to imagine themselves witnessing everything and catching the enthusiasm.
  • Then I hear of a confrontation, the first of many in Mark: the presence of a man with an unclean spirit, who with his loud outburst would be unwelcome either in the synagogue or in our churches today.  I can give an indication with my inflection that the man has embarrassed everyone present, but that for all that he is carrying on like a real prophet: I know who you are!  I am not dealing here with some identity issue on the level of make-believe Smallville, but with a cosmic confrontation between the Holy One and our enemies.  This would be a good time to pause to let the urgency of these words get through.
  • Jesus refused to take the bait and play the identity game.  He rebuked him.  He commands even the unclean spirits.  It shows me that Jesus is concerned more with people than with slogans, and his actions have as much priority as his words.
  • Finally the people have their say.  His fame spread everywhere. 
  • Climax: The only words of Jesus in the passage, simple but decisive: Quiet!  Come out of him!  We miss men and women of God in our world and are inspired when we meet them.
  • Message for our assembly: Here is another example of how Jesus reached out to people in need, and it should inspire us to reach out in our own surroundings.
  • I will challenge myself: To bring to life the Holy One of God, recognized with such vehemence by the demons but so easily marginalized by our churches today. 

Word to Eucharist: Of course we have answered the call of Jesus; we even call him Son of God even if we say it by rote.  Where does church come in here?  How does our presence in this procession relate to our answer?  Do we believe that we can answer him only if we assemble here with our brothers and sisters?

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