4th Sunday in Ordinary Time
The Book of Deuteronomy furnishes the first reading for this weekend. Deuteronomy appears in modern Bibles as the fifth book in sequence in the Old Testament. It is one of the Pentateuch, the first five books of the Old Testament, all of them attributed to Moses.
In this reading, Moses addresses the chosen people, whom he has led, with God’s help, from Egypt where they were enslaved. He promises that God will send prophets, with whom the people can relate. If anyone presumes to take the role of prophet upon himself or herself, without having been called by God, then this imposter will die.
God will take care of His people.
St. Paul’s First Epistle to the Corinthians is the source of the second reading. From the earliest days of Christianity, virginity has been treasured. Christians have never been forbidden to marry, although all Christians are bound to be chaste, according to their state in life. However, over the centuries, Christians have chosen lifelong virginity for religious reasons.
Corinth in the first century A.D. was a city notorious for its outrageous immorality. It was a busy commercial center. Visitors often availed themselves of the pleasures of the flesh provided in Corinth. Indeed, Aphrodite, the goddess of love and carnal desire, was the city’s special deity.
Paul sees virginity as a powerful Christian witness, and from a more pragmatic point of view, he thinks that Christians not obligated by marriage and parenthood can devote their whole time to God’s service.
St. Mark’s Gospel is the source of the third reading. Luke’s Gospel contains an almost exact parallel story. Matthew treats this event only glancingly.
Judaism has never required weekly attendance by Jews at synagogue services. However, going to synagogue to pray together, and to learn the teachings of the Torah, is definitely a high value for Jews during the time of Jesus, as indeed it is even among Jews today. That Jesus went to the synagogue, and on the Sabbath at that, reveals how seriously the Lord took the Law of Moses.
As Jesus speaks, the people spellbound at the knowledge of things relating to God spoken by Jesus, a man “with an unclean spirit” appears. It is important to note here that this man recognizes Jesus as the “Holy One of God.” Furthermore, the man believes that Jesus has the power to do anything. The climax of the story is when Jesus orders the unclean spirit to leave the man, and the unclean spirit obeys.
Again, the people are amazed. The message, however, is not in their amazement, but that Jesus could command this unclean spirit and be obeyed, and that the man, albeit harboring this evil spirit, recognizes Jesus as the Son of God. No devil can overcome the power of God.
Thanks be to God, few people today would say that they, or great numbers of people, are “possessed by the devil,” although the Church still teaches that such possessions occur. All people have “unclean spirits” within them, since all sin, and sin is the mark of the devil’s involvement to some extent at least in any person’s spiritual life.
People can be aware of their sins, and indeed usually they are aware of how and when they turn away from God and harm themselves or others. For many, this realization produces a sense of guilt, or the cynical hunch that virtue is impossible for them to attain. For them, these readings are especially comforting and encouraging. God will never leave us. Such was the promise of Moses. This promise was perfectly fulfilled in Jesus, with God’s own power to put away any unclean spirit. He can strengthen our resolve to be holy, even to be holy in the most radical way.
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