Bulletin: January 31, 2021
Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time
Who speaks for God? How can we determine which are authentic, authoritative expressions of God’s intentions, and which are false? Today’s readings explore the question of authority in distinct ways. In Deuteronomy, Moses prepares the people of Israel for his coming death, indicating that God will raise up a new prophet to guide them. Mark describes Jesus as God’s authentic voice, by the authority of his teaching and the authority he commands over an unclean spirit. In both, authority comes directly from God. Authority comes from an intimate relationship with God and with God’s people. God’s spokesperson is one who teaches, protects, and heals the people loved by God. As always, there is great need today for leaders in our communities who radically trust God to work through them. Let us pray that each person who performs in a role of leadership may speak for God with an authentic voice.
RESCUE FROM BONDAGE
Uniquely in the Gospel of Mark, Jesus’ public ministry begins with a direct confrontation with an unclean spirit. Today’s Gospel passage reflects a recurring theme in Mark, that Jesus’ coming is part of a cosmic battle between God and evil forces. It was commonly believed that many spirits were present in the world, and some sought to control human beings. Mark asserts that in Jesus, God has come to rescue humanity, to free us from every form of bondage.
In today’s passage, the unclean spirit does not surrender power quietly. After complaints, convulsions, and screams, the spirit finally departs. As we may witness in own experience, that which binds us—fear, injustice, resentment—often departs only after a mighty struggle. Confronting anything “unclean” in our hearts, our institutions, or our society often involves a long journey toward freedom. May we sustain our efforts and our trust in God, during these long struggles.
PROPHETS IN DAILY LIFE
Moses assures Israel of God’s continued presence by promising a new prophet. Like Moses, the prophet will be raised up directly by God. But how to distinguish a true prophet from a false one? Many claim to speak for God. The task is complicated by the fact that often, true prophets make waves, cause trouble, and disturb how things are normally done. Many simply don’t want to hear what God is saying, because it threatens their privilege, comfort, or sense of identity.
Like the Israelites in today’s reading, it can be hard for us to bear the voice of God. For God calls us out of all the ways we avoid opening our hearts to God and to others. And so, God raises up surprise prophets in daily life. These are all the people and events who summon us to fuller maturity in love and in faith. We are called upon to always be ready for the prophetic word that may emerge from God’s surprises.