January 28, 2018 — Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time
The homily at Mass is delivered during what we call the Liturgy of the Word. Most of the Liturgy of the Word is made up of readings from Holy Scripture. There are three scripture readings plus the Responsorial Psalm. Most often the First Reading comes from the Old Testament (although during Easter it tends to come from the Acts of the Apostles); the Second Reading is often from one of the New Testament letters; and the Gospel Reading is always taken from one of the four Gospels — Matthew, Mark, Luke or John. From the perspective of the Church the Liturgy of the Word “feeds the people of God from the table of His Word” (Sacrosanctum Concilium). The Responsorial Psalm occurs after the First Reading. The psalm is intended to help us to meditate on the Word of God.
Often there is a clear connection among the readings, but on occasion it is somewhat difficult to connect them. In the readings for this Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time, the First Reading and the Gospel and the psalm are clearly closely connected; the Second Reading is to some extent more vague in its connection.
We are accustomed to hearing about Moses (Moshe in Hebrew). The first five books of the Old Testament are called the Pentateuch, which is formed by two Greek words, pente, which means five, and teuchos, which means book. The Pentateuch is also called “the five books of Moses.” It consists of Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy.
Our First Reading today is from the Book of Deuteronomy. Moses is considered by many to be “the greatest prophet and teacher” in the Old Testament; in fact the Torah describes him as “the greatest prophet who ever was and will be” His influence is so great on Judaism that the religion is sometimes called Mosaism. At the beginning of this reading Moses says, “A prophet like me will the LORD, your God, raise up for you from among your own kin; to him you shall listen.” Moses is speaking of Jesus, and it is such a clear declaration that we need to pay attention to this reading and all others as well.
Later in the reading Moses quotes God as saying, “I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their kin, and will put my words into his mouth; he shall tell them all that I command him.” When we consider today’s Gospel you will understand that statement more clearly.
On the one hand, the Second Reading from St. Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians might appear to be dealing with a topic very distant from the First Reading and the Gospel. On the other hand, the inspired Word we find in scripture is always related. Many point to this section of the letter to explain the Catholic Church’s stance on unmarried priests, but that is not really Paul’s point at all. For Paul the most important thing in life was not romantic love, but pleasing God. From his view, he personally could please God better by remaining single. He is not condemning those who are married, and he is certainly not saying someone cannot serve God and pursue his or her vocation and calling if they are married.
Paul does make it clear that each of us called and each of us must define and pursue that calling. He wants to put all this in what we might call an “eternal perspective.” Unfortunately, there are many single persons who think that being single is a distraction. Whether that is a temporary or a permanent state, it should be seen as a special opportunity to serve God.
There are two distinct parts to today’s Gospel Reading from St. Mark. The first involves Jesus teaching clearly and with authority in the synagogue. We know from where His authority came and was based, but the people at that time were “astonished” because this occurred early on in His ministry. Perhaps a more telling moment is the second part of the Gospel when Jesus expels an evil spirit. In the time of Jesus there were many who offered the ability to expel evil spirits from someone, but they tended to use long and elaborate ceremonies, and they often were not successful. In all of Holy Scripture Jesus never failed to cast out a demon. He did not need to rely on ceremonies, because He had the authority of God, the same authority to which is referred earlier in this Gospel.
Jesus says quite simply, “Quiet! Come out of him!” That is enough and the reaction of the people is to be amazed and the beginning of having trust in the Lord, the same trust we need to have. God needs to be the authority in our own lives. We need to comprehend that and to adjust our lives to serve the Lord as good stewards and disciples.