4th Sunday 2018

28th January 2018

In the first read (Deuteronomy 18:15-20) , Moses relates the message that God will send a prophet to the people. This most probably meant at first that God would always send prophets to teach people God’s ways – to encourage, scold and challenge them. And there were in fact a series of prophets who were the mouth-pieces or spokes-persons of God, which is what the word prophet means (in the Greek προφητης). But later, perhaps following the yearning for a Messiah, this message from Moses may have been taken as an ideal Prophet who would speak God’s final words. Followers of Christ who came to realise that he was the very Word of God, took this as a foretelling of His coming. For us, as for all people across the ages, there is the problem of discerning the message of God to us, in general and to each of us individually in our different situations. Surely God’s message is in the Bible, but that needs interpreting, and the traditional teaching of the Christian Church plays a role in this. But in the end any individual application, comes from our own make-up, our circumstances and the myriads of people who communicate with us directly or indirectly. I think, that like a real parent, God wants us to heed all these and do the best we can – but we mustn’t harden our hearts or close our ears.

The second reading (1 Cor 7:32-35) follows on from last week’s. Paul is answering a number of questions that the Corinthians have raised with him, either by messenger or by letter. They had many questions they wanted their first evangeliser to sort out for them in their particular situation. Some Christian converts from Judaism promoted strict observance of the Jewish laws even for non-Jewish Christians, thinking that in this way they could deserve God’s love and grace. But this is mistaken because we know that God loves us gratuitously and we are not worthy of any reward from God. Some people in Corinth, perhaps in reaction to the immorality for which their city was notorious or the supposed imminence of the end of time, promoted celibacy even within marriage. Paul thought there was no harm in this but that it was not necessary. Paul knows that there is a difference between what he suggests and the genuine imperatives from the Lord for good Christian living.

Mark in the gospel (Mark 1:21-28) tells us of Jesus’ visit to the local synagogue where, as a visitor, he was invited to say some words. Jesus has confidence about any message of God for the people, because, as we now believe, He was the very Word of God incarnate into our humanity. The recipients of Mark’s preaching also had this belief, though perhaps only incipiently. In the story, the authority of the words of Jesus is recognised, interestingly even before His power over unclean spirits is exhibited. I notice that, in Mark’s gospel story, it is only the unclean spirit that actually recognises who Jesus is, and secondly, that there seems to be an aside, that the local leader of the synagogue and perhaps other teachers, don’t quite speak with the same personal confidence in what they say. We should be wary of thinking that we can earn God’s love (we have it anyway), and we should try to detect what God might be saying to us through the things and the people with whom we interact and the beliefs that we hold, and respond with confidence that we are doing the best we can. These are the ideas, perhaps, that we should take from the Word of God we hear each Sunday.

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