DO NOT HARDEN YOUR HEART! – 28 January 2018 – 4th Sunday in Ordinary Time (B)

Deuteronomy 18:15-20, 1 Corinthians 7:32-35, Mark 1:21-28
May Tam

Perhaps it would not be too wrong to say that one of the things that undergoes depletion over the ages is the submission to “authority.” Challenge to the origin of established authority always creates tension among people in different classes. Today, needless to say, under the shield of human rights and freedom (which are very often being misused), this challenge continues its way to parents at home, to teachers in the classrooms, to the Catholic Church in her teachings and ultimately, to the Christian faith in God.

Yet in today’s readings, we are reminded that there is a real authority that is beyond our earthly nature. It is God’s absolute authority that needs no human legitimacy for it is not subject to the will of the people.Without the help of the inspired author, we may presently have difficulty to picture this kind of authority.The authority of God was so frightening to the Israelites that they wanted to avoid any direct encounter with Him(Dt 18:16). This authority commanded the chosen prophet to die if he should speak not of God’s words. This authority was emanated in the person of Jesus. People were amazed not because of what Jesus preached but of the way He taught. His authority demanded their attention and compelled them to listen. This authority could even drive out unclean spirits and subdue them. The effect was the same—-astonishment and alarm on the people.

St Paul knew well of this authority of God. In his letter to the Philippians (2:10), this authority commands every knee that is in heaven, on earth and under the earth to bend even at the name of Jesus. This authority made St Paul plead with us to “work out [our] salvation with fear and trembling” (Phil 2:12). It is this authority too that allows us to appreciate the great mercy and patience of God on sinners. Though God has authority over all things and demands full responsibility from the prophet in carrying out His commands, to those who hear God’s word but do not heed (yet), He does not execute judgment or punishment on them instantly. Instead His mercy allows them time to turn back to Him (Dt 18:19).

“O that today you would listen to the voice of the Lord, do not harden your hearts” (Responsorial Psalm Response, Psalm 95), what an earnest cry appealing to the heart of every sinner! Let us not waste God’s mercy while He still gives us time. Let us not challenge His authority for “the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom” (Proverbs 1:7, 9:10; Psalms 111:10).

The Divine Power in the Word

Fernando Armellini SCJ
Claretian Publications, Macau

Today’s gospel narrates the first healing miracle of Jesus in Mark’s gospel. It is not chosen at random. In Mark’s intention it constitutes the synthesis of the whole work of Jesus for the people.

Jesus, as is customary, joins his people on the Saturday synagogue service and does the readings. After a much-appreciated sermon of Jesus, a man “possessed by an unclean spirit,” who until then has remained calm outside the synagogue begins to rail against Jesus, exploding in curses.

He was not master of himself. There were forces of death that dominated him to the point of destroying him. They spoke in his name and reduced him to a state of complete dehumanization. Before the arrival of Jesus, there was peace and quiet in the synagogue and that was fine to all. They were resigned to the fact that the obsessed person remained at the mercy of the forces of evil. It was enough that he did not bother and remained quiet without disturbing them.

Where Jesus arrives this balance is upset. The presence of Christ is irreconcilable with the “devil”, with the forces of evil. The “devil” opens the hostilities (it is always those who feel weaker who attack). He realized that “the strong man” has arrived (Mt 12:29) able to bring down his kingdom. Frightened, he screamed two questions: “What do you want with us? Have you come to destroy us?”

The plural pronoun, used by the “unclean spirit” is not surprising because the forces that keep man away from God and life are many. The powers that feel threatened by the presence and word of Christ are many.

Jesus does not answer him with curses or magic gestures, as the exorcists of his time used to do. He gives two strict orders: “Be silent, and come out of this man!” The “unclean spirit” obeys him and all those present are amazed. They realize that a prophet announcing a “new doctrine” is in their midst. He has word that has God’s power in it, has “authority”, that is, accomplishes what he says.

Preaching that does not cast out demons, leaving things as they are, that does not change the person and the world, is not the word of Jesus.

Translated by Fr John Ladesma SDB
Abridged by Fr Jijo Kandamkulathy CMF

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