FEASTING ON THE WORD
"If you meditate on the Scriptures it will appear to you in its brilliant splendor." ―St. Pio of Pietrelcina
Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time (B)
Deuteronomy 18:15-20 | Psalm 95:1-2,6-7,7-9 | 1 Corinthians 7:32-35 | Mark 1: 21-28
The readings for the Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time invite us to recognize Jesus and grant him authority in our lives.
At the age of nine, one evening, Jill eagerly wanted to share an important event from her day. Rushing to express herself, she said, "Daddy, I want to tell you something, and I'll tell you really fast." Understanding her impatience, I reassured her, "You can share it at your own pace, Chabebeng. Take your time." Her unforgettable response was, "Then listen. You're always too busy".
In the first reading from the book of Deuteronomy, Moses assures the people that God will not abandon them and after his death, would raise up for them one final prophet, who will hear from God and speak from God all that the people need to hear. The problem is that true prophets are quite often the last thing that people want to hear. They were known to pronounce judgment on the very foundations of the people’s beliefs. They set before God’s people the truth that their lives today must reflect the promises they made to God in the past so that they can continue to enjoy God’s presence in the future. But how does the community know that the prophet is speaking truly from God? The task of determining God’s word to us requires a great effort on our part and a willingness to listen to the word that challenges all that we hold dear and believe to be true. Do you willingly listen to prophetic voices, messages from God to guide your life? Like the people of Israel of old, we have a choice. Do we listen, or do we not?
Maridel dedicated 15 years to instructing children's catechism in public elementary schools, content in her single life. However, when a young couple arrived in her vicinity, she glimpsed a different aspect of life. Hoping for a partner, she prayed for God to select a man in Manila, call him, bring him to her school, and prompt a marriage proposal. "I believe God answers prayers," she said. "He called him, but he didn't choose to come".
For many people today, singleness feels like an embarrassment, a reason for apology, a motivation for therapy. Especially if we are single beyond a particular age — whether 25, 30, 35 — singleness may dominate our worries and our friends’ or family’s conversations. After a certain age, though —40 or 45, maybe —people no longer dare mention it. We may be asked “Why are you single?” but no one would ever think to ask “Why are you married?” Too many people rush into marriage without counting what it will cost them. Oftentimes the marriage ends in ruin. Marriage may cost more self-sacrifice for your spouse's sake than you plan on giving. That is why you should think it seriously. In the mind of the apostle Paul, Jesus will be back in the very near future so he does not see any reason to become involved in relationships which distract one from being tuned into the ways of the Lord Jesus. In our Second Reading from his First Letter to the Corinthians, he asks us to also consider the possibility that God calls us to a total commitment to the Gospel in a celibate way of life. Paul expresses his concern that those who are married are more likely to face the distractions of earthly life than those who are celibate. He stressed the practicality of the single life. He was free to travel and preach the Good News without relationship attachments. He was spiritually ready for the return of the Lord. Singleness, of course, is not an embarrassment, nor necessarily God’s “second best.” After all, lest we forget, Jesus was single, Saint Paul was single, and church history deeply respects those who embraced singleness and celibacy for the sake of the kingdom.
In 1998, there was a great disaster off the coast of Fortune Island, Batangas. A passenger ferry carrying 388 people sailed from Manila to Cebu during the onslaught of typhoon Vicki. Two hours after leaving Manila harbor, the ferry suddenly tilted to its port side and was unable to recover; the water began to pour in; the boat began to sink, and panic set in. People were screaming as the happy, relaxed atmosphere of the ship turned in minutes into something worse than a horror movie. All at once one man – not a member of the crew – took charge. In a clear voice he gave orders, telling people what to do. Relief mixed with the panic as people realized someone at least was in charge, and many managed to reach lifeboats they would otherwise have missed in the dark and the rush. The man himself made his way down to the people trapped in the hold. There he formed a human bridge; holding on with one hand to a ladder and with the other to part of the ship that was nearly submerged, he enabled still more to cross to safety. When the nightmare was over, the man himself was found to have drowned. He had literally given his life in using the authority he had assumed – the authority by which many had been saved.
Our gospel reading for today is all about the authority of Jesus. Following the call of his first disciples, Jesus sets out for Capernaum and makes a Sabbath day appearance at the local synagogue. Jesus did not have scribal training but the Gospel presents us with his teaching authority both by means of words and action. He preaches and teaches the word of God. People look at him with admiration for he spoke with authority and power. Normally prophets begin speaking with the words, "Thus says, Yahweh, the Lord." But throughout the gospel Jesus begins his preaching with, "Truly, truly, I say to you." Jesus expels an unclean spirit from a man and heals him. There are no rituals, no magical gestures, no incantations. Like his Father, his word is enough; it is creative and healing. All he has to do is speak and it happens. His authority is not founded on books, academic degrees, social status, or political affiliation but on his continued experience of God as Father. As we continue to be amazed with the authority of Jesus, together with the crowds of Capernaum, let us pray for the grace to always trust what Jesus says and that we follow wherever his astonishing, amazing, life-giving authority leads us.
Jeff Jacinto, PhD, DHum