4th Sunday in OT / B / 2018
Msgr. Patrick S. Brennan
In our readings . . . we know that the 1st and 3rd readings or thematically connected. But this Sunday it is particularly important to make the connection between these two readings—because the first reading leads to, and explains, the second.
The 1st reading is from the 18th chapter of Deuteronomy—a very important reading for biblical Jews. We might say that this chapter haunted the minds of ancient Israel— wondering of its meaning, wondering where it leads.
Moses is speaking to the people, just before they enter into the promised land. He says, "A prophet like me will the Lord, your God, raise up for you from among your own kin: to him you shall listen."
A prophet like me. Moses was the most important figure in ancient Israel—there was no one greater than Moses. The Moses who spoke with God, who received God’s name, who received the Law, who led the Israelites out of slavery and into freedom. And yet, God would raise up another—one "greater" is the implication, who would speak with authority—not simply repeating God’s words, but speaking God’s words, with his own authority.
You can see where this is going . . . we jump ahead to the Gospel, the first chapter of the Gospel of Mark. It’s the Sabbath. A man named Jesus walks into the synagogue at Capernaum, and he began to teach them. The people wonder who he is, since this is the very beginning of the public ministry of Jesus—his debut, one might say, among the people.
The reaction of the crowd? Astonishment. "The people were astonished at his teaching." Why? Because of the content? Because of the beauty of his words? Because of his charismatic personality? Perhaps . . . but Mark has something else in mind.
To understand this, a little background is necessary. Typically, it was rabbis and scribes who taught in the synagogue. A rabbi would always speak on the authority of someone greater than himself; e.g., "As Rabbi so and so said." Each of these teachings would refer to some prior (and higher) authority until it went all the way back to Moses himself—the greatest teacher, prophet, and law giver.
But Jesus was different from the rabbis and scribes. Mark says, "the people were astonished at his teaching, for he taught them as one having authority, not as the scribes." Jesus taught on his own authority, not on the authority of those who came before him.
The Greek word for authority, exousia, means "out (ex) of his own substance (ousia)." Jesus taught from his own being. This comes out clearly in Mt’s Sermon on the Mount, where Jesus says, "You have heard it said . . . but I say to you." Jesus speaks on the authority of God.
Looking back to the first reading, what did it say? That God would raise up one greater than Moses, who would speak on his own authority, and save his people.
Mark illustrates the power of Jesus’ words with an exorcism—Jesus encounters his first demon in a holy place. The powerful words of Jesus strike root in a man with an "unclean spirit." The demons are the first to recognize Jesus: "What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us?" Quite simply, yes!
Notice how the demon speaks in the plural: "us." Sin and evil divide us, break us, shatter us, disorder us. We are in pieces. The teaching of Jesus, with authority, "heals the wounds of sin and division," reconciling God with humanity. "All were amazed—a new teaching, with authority." The words we hear today—words that bring healing, order, peace, and salvation. "This is my beloved Son. Listen to him."