Friday, January 30, 2015

"A New Teaching with Power": Readings for the Fourth Sunday inOrdinaryTime

This Sunday the lectionary readings highlight the way Jesus fulfills Moses' announcement that God would one day send a future prophet like himself to God's people. However, as the readings also underscore, Jesus is more than a mere prophet, he is the Messiah. Let us take a brief look.

FIRST READING: Deuteronomy 18:15-20
Moses spoke to all the people, saying:
“A prophet like me will the LORD, your God, raise up for you
from among your own kin;
to him you shall listen.
This is exactly what you requested of the LORD, your God, at Horeb
on the day of the assembly, when you said,
‘Let us not again hear the voice of the LORD, our God,
nor see this great fire any more, lest we die.’
And the LORD said to me, ‘This was well said.
I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their kin,
and will put my words into his mouth;
he shall tell them all that I command him.
Whoever will not listen to my words which he speaks in my name,
I myself will make him answer for it.
But if a prophet presumes to speak in my name
an oracle that I have not commanded him to speak,
or speaks in the name of other gods, he shall die.’”
In Deuteronomy 18, Moses announces that the Lord will one day send another prophet like himself to the people.

Elsewhere in the book of Deuteronomy, we hear that no prophet in fact has ever arisen like him.
“And there has not arisen a prophet since in Israel like Moses, whom the Lord knew face to face, none like him for all the signs and the wonders which the Lord sent him to do in the land of Egypt, to Pharaoh and to all his servants and to all his land, and for all the mighty power and all the great and terrible deeds which Moses wrought in the sight of all Israel.” (Deut 34:10–12)
The promise, then, of a future prophet like Moses was interpreted eschatologically--i.e., this hope became associated with the time of the future restoration of Israel and messianic expectations.

Notably, later Jewish tradition describes Moses as a kind of messianic prototype. Rabbinic literature refers to Moses as “Israel’s savior” (b. Sotah 12b; cf. 11a; 11b and 13a) and the “first redeemer” (Ruth Rab. 2:14). The Messiah is called the “last redeemer” (cf. Gen. Rab. 85; cf. also Gen. Rab. 85; Exod. Rab. 1). Likewise, Moses is associated with the Messiah in b. Sanh. 98b: “Rab said: The world was created only on David's account. Samuel said: On Moses account; R. Johanan said: For the sake of the Messiah”. 

Other rabbinic texts draw conclusions abut the Messiah based on Moses’ life, e.g.: 
  • as Moses was brought up in Egypt, the Messiah would live in Rome (cf. Exod. Rab. 1)
  • as Moses went into hiding so would the Messiah (cf. Num. Rab. 11; Song Rab. on 2:9; Pesiq. Rab. 36)
  • as Moses rode on an ass and provided miraculous food so also would the Messiah (cf. Eccl. Rab. 1:9).[1]

SECOND READING: 1 Corinthians 7:32-35
Brothers and sisters:
I should like you to be free of anxieties.
An unmarried man is anxious about the things of the Lord,
how he may please the Lord.
But a married man is anxious about the things of the world,
how he may please his wife, and he is divided.
An unmarried woman or a virgin is anxious about the things of the Lord,
so that she may be holy in both body and spirit.
A married woman, on the other hand,
is anxious about the things of the world,
how she may please her husband.
I am telling you this for your own benefit,
not to impose a restraint upon you,
but for the sake of propriety
and adherence to the Lord without distraction.
In the second reading, St. Paul discusses his preference for celibacy. This is a shocking passage to many modern readers. 

Not long ago I got into a conversation with a fellow passenger on an airplane who explained to me how he had left Catholicism to find a "biblically based" church. In particular, he discussed his disdain for the Catholic tradition of the religious life, i.e., monks and nuns. Specifically, he claimed that such lifestyles were "unnatural" and contrary to the biblical vision for human sexuality.

I asked him for his take on 1 Corinthians 7. After readily pulling out his Bible and reading through the passage, he confessed that he "must have missed that one". 

Paul's point in context, of course, is not that everyone is called to celibacy. Each should live the life the Lord has assigned for them. But the practice of celibacy is, as the Catechism of the Catholic Church says, an "eschatological sign". Those who live it out faithfully bear witness to the fact that the form of this world is passing away. The detachment they practice by renouncing earthly goods is a call for all of us to do the same in whatever way God has called us to do that.

GOSPEL: Mark 1:21-28
Then they came to Capernaum,
and on the sabbath Jesus entered the synagogue and taught.
The people were astonished at his teaching,
for he taught them as one having authority and not as the scribes.
In their synagogue was a man with an unclean spirit;
he cried out, “What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth?
Have you come to destroy us?
I know who you are—the Holy One of God!”
Jesus rebuked him and said,
“Quiet! Come out of him!”
The unclean spirit convulsed him and with a loud cry came out of him.
All were amazed and asked one another,
“What is this?
A new teaching with authority.
He commands even the unclean spirits and they obey him.”
His fame spread everywhere throughout the whole region of Galilee.
The Gospel reading is taken from the Gospel of Mark. Here we read about Jesus' activity in Capernaum, a place that apparently becomes the functional headquarters of his Galilean ministry. 

The crowds were astonished at his teaching for he taught them as one having authority and not as the scribes. The Greek word here translated "authority" can also mean "power". Jesus teaches with "power"--a kind of power not associated with the scribes. 

This power is demonstrated by Jesus' action of casting out a demon, described here as an "unclean spirit". The term is used for fallen angels in 1 Enoch 6-11. The exorcism leads some to describe Jesus as offering a "new" teaching. What exactly is "new" about his teaching though is unclear. 

Some have suggested that Jesus is said to not teach like the scribes do because he does not refer to the opinion of other respected teachers; he bases his teaching on his own authority. Something similar may be seen in Jesus' exorcism. Adela Yarbro Collins notes that Mark's portrait of Jesus' exorcisms may be contrasted with what is found in the exorcistic practices described in the Dead Sea Scrolls, particularly the fragment identified as 4Q560.
This text is evidence for the practice of exorcism in the cultural context of the historical Jesus. The means is verbal, as in Mark, but the exorcist in 4Q560 adjures the demon “by the Name of Him who forgives sins and transgression” (4Q560 1:4) whereas Mark’s Jesus does not call upon the name of God as he casts out demons. (Mark, p. 167)
In fact, whereas other exorcisms seemed to be performed only through the use of various incantations, Jesus' simple response immediately drives him out: Quiet! Come out of him! In fact, the Greek term, phimōthēti, actually can be translated, "Be muzzled!" All of this further underscores Jesus' unique power.

In fact, elsewhere in the New Testament Jesus is described as explaining how he casts out demons "by the finger of God" (Luke 11:20). The language here recalls the Exodus. Upon seeing the plagues wrought by Moses, the Egyptian magicians concede, "This is the finger of God."

Before being sent out, the demon identifies Jesus as "the Holy One of God". This scene sets in motion a major motif that is well-recognized in the Gospel of Mark: the "messianic secret". Demons appear to recognize that Jesus is the Messiah and yet Jesus does not want the truth of his identity revealed. Why? The most likely answer is that Jesus is concerned that his messiahship will be misconstrued and therefore his mission misunderstood. Jesus has not come as a political messiah. His victory is not primarily to be achieved militarily but spiritually. 

The enemy Jesus comes to conquer is Satan. Jesus' exorcistic ministry is a sign of this. Mark portrays Moses in terms that identify him as the fulfillment of Deuteronomy 18; Jesus is the "prophet like unto Moses" who brings about a New Exodus. He does not deliver his people from Pharaoh, but from Satan. 

And he does all of this by virtue of his unique divine power. 

One last element I'd like to mention. Interestingly, the unclean spirit calls Jesus, "the Holy One of God". Notably, that is actually not the term used for Moses; it is actually evocative of the language used for the high priest, Aaron. For example, see Psalm 106:16, which describes how some men of Israel were jealous of "Aaron, the holy one of the Lord". Numbers 16:7 also describes Aaron as the "holy one" chosen by God. 

Jesus is the true priest. This Sunday, as we celebrate the liturgy of the eucharist, we reflect on the way his power drives out demons--and we encounter that power through the Church's worship. Let us go to him, confident that he will free us from the power of the evil one through the sacrifice he has made of himself. 

[1] For further discussion, see Howard M. Teeple, The Mosaic Eschatological Prophet (SBLMS 10; Philadelphia: Society of Biblical Literature, 1957). Of course, the Exodus itself became the model for Jewish eschatological hopes. For further discussion, see the discussion and references provided in Rikki Watts, Isaiah’s New Exodus and Mark (WUNT 288; Tübingen: Mohr-Siebeck, 1997), 79–82; Dale Allison, The New Moses: A Matthean Typology (Minneapolis: Fortress, 1993), 200–13. 


Vince C said...

Thanks as always Dr. Barber, for these weekly insights on the Sunday Scriptures by you and your colleagues. I look forward to them every week and find them very helpful in preparing for my weekly men's Bible study.

frjohnt said...

This is always the very BEST homily help I peruse.

Thanks so much!

Monsignor JTM

Fr Thomas Murphy LC said...

I believe the greek word used for authority in this gospel passage is exousia, not dynamis. Takes nothing away from the point you are making. Wonderful reflection.

Annie2 said...

Thank you for this weekly coment. It really helps me prepare for Mass.

John Bergsma said...

Loved the post! Please use the divider bar, though! --John

heidi keene said...

Great post Dr Barber. What is the dating of the Midrash you cited - esp Exodus Rabbah? Very interesting points.

Michael Barber said...

Thanks, everyone for the kind comments.

heidi keene - I think (and I could be wrong) it is usually dated between 10th - 12th centuries. It is "latter" tradition, as I explained. Still, I think it's interesting.

heidi keene said...

Thank you. Actually, the late date makes it even more