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ICT4D Week 2018

Sunday, January 28, 2018

God’s words are authority embedded

The word of God today revolves around the prophet and the authority embedded in every authentic prophetic word. When there is a coincidence between a messenger and his message, one cannot but accept the credibility and the authority in his word and message. In the case of Jesus, his name corresponds with his message. For the name Jesus in Hebrew is Joshua which means “God saves”. Therefore, imbedded in his name are his identity and mission. His words are power-packed for his authority comes from above. He is the Prophet per excellence!

The first Reading from the book of Deuteronomy (Deut. 18:15-20), talks about a prophet to be sent after Moses. First of all, who is a prophet? (One who speaks on behalf of the other, somebody’s spokesman) So, a prophet of God is one who speaks on behalf of God or in the name of God. In doing this, he might refer to past or future events. But he is not merely a futurologist (someone who merely predicts the future). Furthermore, it is not enough to speak in the name of God, such an individual must be called by God and backed by His authority too. 

This brings us to the theme of AUTHORITY.  A prophet does not preach or speak out of his own accord, rather he is under the coverage of God’s authority. In this passage, Moses assured the people of God’s provision of a prophet like him who will speak the word of which he would be given. He therefore instructed the people to listen to him as the words he would be speaking belongs to God. Besides, a prophet is expected to speak only in the name of God and not in his or in the name of other gods.

We may well presume that the prophet referred to in the First Reading is Joshua, since he took over from Moses and God also assured him that as He was with Moses his servant, He shall also be with him (Joshua 1:5). This may not be a very wrong guess even though it may not be exact. We may deem it plausible to say that the prophet referred to in the First reading goes beyond Joshua. In fact, prefiguratively, it accurately points to our Lord Jesus Christ who came as the greatest of all the prophets and spoke in the name of God with authority, as revealed in the Gospel reading. And there we go!

The Gospel passage (Mark 1:21b-28) presents the episode of the authoritative teaching of Jesus. Jesus as particular to Mark enters the synagogue to teach, and Mark underscores the power of Jesus’ teaching “like someone with authority”. Just as each one of us goes to church or a place of worship to pray and to have an encounter, similarly, Jesus went to the Synagogue and there he taught them. He taught them with authority, and with the same authority he commanded the evil spirit to be mute. The authority manifested in his teaching gained him the admiration, fame and the amazement of those around. Indeed, he did capture the attention of his listeners.

This passage follows the gospel reading of last Sunday, therein after the call of the first disciples, Mark narrates that Jesus embarked on his public ministry in Galilee. In his narrative, the first episode Mark presents is an exorcism (Mk. 1:23-26). Mark emphasized on Jesus teaching, but without indicating the content of that teaching. He says that he taught as one having authority. The Greek word for authority is ‘exousia’, which also has the connotation of power, especially in the context of miracle. Indeed, Mark didn’t deny that Jesus displayed both authority and power in his miracles. The exorcism must have followed as a demonstration of the power of Jesus’ teaching with authority. His Word is deed!

 Another important point we must acknowledge today is drawn from the healing of the man with unclean spirit as we read from the Gospel passage. We are told that the unclean spirits recognized our Lord Jesus Christ and not only called him Jesus of Nazareth but also the Holy One of God. On our part, as those who hear the prophetic utterances do we recognize the Lord in his word and messages? Jesus teaches and preaches without fear of anything or anybody, not even of evil spirits who know and recognize Him. The evil spirits are afraid of Him, little wonder, the man with unclean spirit cried out: “What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are- the Hole one of God!” And immediately Jesus rebuked and commanded him, “Quiet! Come out of him!” The amazing question of the man with unclean spirit: Have you come to destroy us? Yes! Jesus has come to destroy all that tends to destroy man! We remember the episode where the disciples were sailing in the stormy lake of Galilee, Jesus gave the same command: “Be silent” and immediately the sea was calm (cf. Mk. 4:35-41).

St. Mark communicates to us that the God revealed by Jesus is a God who brings life, liberation and healing and not death. The episode between Jesus and the man with unclean spirit expresses this fact eloquently. It is interesting the reaction of the man with unclean spirit towards Jesus: “I know who you are”. The crowd described him as one teaching with authority, which is seen in his authority over evil. Yet, the crowd was not able to identify the source of this authority, if not the possessed man who shouted “I know who you are-the holy one of God”. However, his listeners noticed that there was something different from the way, the tone and the style of Jesus’ teaching, compared to that of the Scribes. Jesus speaks and talks from the heart, and as such his words reach the heart of his listeners. His is a heart-to-heart communication. For this, his listeners were able to notice that there is something extraordinary in his teaching.

In the Gospel of Mark there are twofold questions that permeate the whole corpus and continue to linger, and they are: “who is this man? (Mk. 4:41); what is this? (Mk. 1:27)”The first question arises because of his person and his deeds, while the second as we saw in this Gospel passage is just about his deeds and prodigies. However, these two amazing questions point to the Marcan Messianic secret. These questions continue until the moment of his death, when the roman soldier who witnessed the passion and saw how Jesus died declared: “truly this man was a son of God”(Mk. 15:39). Likewise, we need to recognize who Jesus is. He is not an ordinary person, but the Holy one of God, the Son of God.

In the gospel of Mark we are told that “whenever unclean spirits saw him they would fall down before him and shout, “You are the Son of God”” (Mk. 3:11). Funny enough, the messianic secret of Mark was revealed on a number of times by the evil spirits. Even the evil spirits know and recognize Jesus as the Son of God. Then, what should be the difference between our knowledge of Him and that of the evil spirits? In Greek there are two major words that indicate knowledge: ‘gnosis’ and‘epignosis’, while gnosis alludes to ordinary, head and idealistic knowledge, epignosis has to do with real, practical and existential knowledge. 

Thus, unless our knowledge of him is existential and transformational, we risk remaining at the same knowledge level with the unclean spirits. Indeed, it is the real and self-involved knowledge of Him that will gain us eternal life. For this St. John evinces “And eternal life is this: to know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent” (Jn. 17:3). This knowledge has to change our life, else we risk being like the unclean spirits that know Jesus by words of mouth, and not by deeds.

In the second reading (1 Cor.7:32-35) when some of the Corinthians were worried and anxious about life, St. Paul encouraged them saying: “We must be free from anxiety”. And it is only when we are immersed in the God-experience that we can be relieved from anxieties and worries, whether married or not. St. Paul exhorts us to be conscious of the call from God, so that we can have undivided devotion for the Lord. He praises purity for the sake of God’s kingdom. He emphasizes that married people are taken up by their worries of this world. By that, Paul does not intend to condemn marriage. However, he stresses that celibacy places someone in a better position to serve God.

Above all else, however, the fascinating and soul southing good news of this day, is that when the word of God inhabits in our heart, when God takes the driver-seat in our life, we too can teach and speak with authority, as an offshoot from an authentic experience with and in Jesus Christ. Beloved there are some areas of our life that we need to dispose for the Lord to destroy them, just as the man with unclean spirit cried out “have you come to destroy us?” It is only when he destroys those aspects of us inhibited by evil and vices that we can be free and saved. We cannot but conclude with the words of the Psalmist thus: “O that today you would listen to his voice! Harden not your hearts” (Ps. 95:7-8).


*Contributed by Rev. Fr Simon Peter Dzungwe from Ibadan Archdiocese.

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