At every age, there have been people of courage willing to risk their lives for others for a greater good. Such an initiative requires a thick skin strong enough to endure hardships and a warm heart to forgive and forget with a willingness to be lonely and unpopular. Those who attempt this difficult task should expect no gratitude for their efforts; rather bear the brunt of criticism and at times hostility. Those seeking stability and personal satisfaction should channel their efforts elsewhere.
First reading: Deuteronomy 18:15–20
Moses was an exemplary personality who displayed how prophetic ministry was to nurture and evoke alternative consciousness. Moses did not simply engineer the escape of a group of disgruntled Hebrews who had been enslaved in Egypt but effected radical break between Israel’s past and future. He dismantled Egypt’s religion of static triumphalism by exposing its gods as powerless. He crushed Egypt’s politics of oppression replacing it with politics of compassion. With him, the Hebrews regained the assurance of being God’s people with their own land, history and laws. Moses secured their freedom to renter a relationship with God whom they had given up. As a true prophet Moses passed the message that God was for them!
It is from this event that subsequent generations would remember the promise “a prophet like me will the Lord, your God raise up” Deuteronomy 18:15, and look for one like Moses to listen to. The ominous warning is that “if anyone will not listen…I myself will make him answer for it” Deuteronomy 18:19 since hypocritical prophets would not be tolerated cf. Deuteronomy 18:20. Prophets make lovely additions to the community, yet they are less desired in the neighbourhood because they challenge and provoke change. Prophets don’t have long careers, they have no insurance, only the power of oracle and God’s eternal promise. Moses, therefore, remains the icon from which our earthly prophet personality needs to be traced.
Second reading: 1Corinthians 7:32–35
Marriage is not simply moving in with someone we think it will be fun. Rather, it is giving sincere assent to the whole chain reaction, trials and decisions. Once they are done with us, we may be left changed beyond recognition. Paul understood that marital relationship which makes two lives one is a full and long-term commitment requiring attention and endurance. While the joys of marriage are diverse, so also are its challenges. Paul who expected Jesus to return soon wished his community to concentrate their efforts on nothing else but the final days. He would not have allowed them to get distracted by any other responsibility. It is in this light that he advised unmarried men and women to remain as they are. Anyone attempt to put extremes on Paul’s concern regarding marriage and celibacy should appreciate this syllogism “now, in regard to virgins, I have no commandment from the Lord, but I give my opinion as one who by the Lord’s mercy is trustworthy” 1Corinthians 7:25. Celibacy is meant to free anyone ready to dedicate him/herself to “the affairs of the Lord” 1Corinthians 7:32.
Paul was not alone in his opinion regarding married life. One of his mentors, Rabbi Ben Azay is quoted saying, ‘Why should I marry? My love is the Torah! I shall leave it to others to prolong the human race’. A Greek thinker Episcetus advised philosophers to avoid marriage saying “it is a question of being free from distraction to acquire freedom for intellectual pursuits” (Diss. 3.22.69). For a more complete appreciation of Paul’s thought concerning marriage, it is necessary to seek guidance from the Holy Bible. After a time, his ideas about the imminent return of Jesus had to alter because of delayed eschatology. After readjusting, Paul encouraged marriage as a basis for a holy family built on mutual love cf. Colossians 3:18-4:1.
Gospel: Mark 1:21–28
Prophets are messengers of God’s word called and commissioned by him. They perceive in a unique way the will of God and communicate it to others. Through this process of announcing
God’s word, they became what they teach. This is precisely the dynamic in today’s gospel. Jesus the Word of God incarnate illustrated through teaching, healing and actions that the goodness of God will never be overcome by evil because his reign is everlasting.
Before his confrontation with evil as imaged in the man with the unclean spirit, Jesus had been teaching in the synagogue at Capernaum. Synagogues were primarily houses of instruction comprising three elements, prayer, readings scripture and exposition of the word. Administered by the laity the Synagogue was an influential factor in Jewish life than the temple that was located only in Jerusalem. By law, wherever there were ten Jewish families, there had to be a synagogue since it was vital to the faith life of the community. If a person had a message to preach, the synagogue was an obvious choice of venue.
It was in the Synagogue that Jesus gained a hearing; following his example, his disciples would do the same after his death and resurrection. Now…back to Capernaum….with his characteristic frankness, Mark writes that people in the synagogue that day were ‘spellbound…because he taught with authority and not like the scribes’. Speaking with authority was intrinsically his by virtue of his identity a prophet like Moses the Holy One of God as acclaimed by the evil spirit. His intrinsic and commanding authority is further illustrated in his power to rid the convulsing man of an unclean spirit. Throughout this gospel, the identity of Jesus is displayed under a ‘cloud’. Jesus’ family members, his disciples and the crowds were frequently confused as to who he was but the evil spirit recognized and identified him with the divine and eschatological title, “Holy One of God” Mark 1:24. Through the demon’s acclamation, the disciples get an opportunity to know that Jesus is the messiah though people in the synagogue remained to wonder who Jesus is. Jesus is a mystery of faith, in proclaiming his death and resurrection see him coming again.
Today we need to listen to the prophetic voice that God is continuously providing for us. We have to read the signs of the times to establish which stage of life we are invited to live, married or single, we all belong to the Lord. Jesus is here establishing the reign of God and continues to rout out the evil of any kind from humanity in all of its disguised expressions such as, poverty, sickness and indifference; we are called to cooperate with him in this ministry. With faith; we share his power to confront evil in any way; what we need is a collective conscience that is courageous enough to command the evil one to be quiet and come out of any of us.
Fr Paulino Mondo