Commentary: 4th Sunday Year B

First Reading: Deuteronomy 18:15–20

15 The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among your own people; you shall heed such a prophet.

“The Book of Deuteronomy contains a promise that is completely different from the messianic hope expressed in other books of the Old Testament, yet it is of decisive importance for understanding the figure of Jesus. The object of this promise is not a king of Israel and king of the world — a new David, in other words — but a new Moses. Moses himself, however, is interpreted as a prophet.” (Ratzinger, Jesus of Nazareth, 1).  This promise is a direct contrast to the previous mentioned methods used by the peoples surrounding Israel to open a “window” onto the future — trying to seize control of the future.

“In every age, man’s questioning has focused not only on his ultimate origin; almost more than the obscurity of his beginnings, what preoccupies him is the hiddenness of the future that awaits him. Man wants to tear aside the curtain; he wants to know what is going to happen, so that he can avoid perdition and set out toward salvation. Religions do not aim merely to answer the question about our provenance; all religions try in one way or another to lift the veil of the future. They seem important precisely because they impart knowledge about what is to come, and so show man the path he has to take to avoid coming to grief. This explains why practically all religions have developed ways of looking into the future” (Ratzinger, Jesus of Nazareth, 1-2).

16 This is what you requested of the Lord your God at Horeb on the day of the assembly when you said: “If I hear the voice of the Lord my God any more, or ever again see this great fire, I will die.” 17 Then the Lord replied to me: “They are right in what they have said. 18 I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their own people; I will put my words in the mouth of the prophet, who shall speak to them everything that I command. 19 Anyone who does not heed the words that the prophet shall speak in my name, I myself will hold accountable. 20 But any prophet who speaks in the name of other gods, or who presumes to speak in my name a word that I have not commanded the prophet to speak—that prophet shall die.”

The ancient Jews called this “the new Moses” prophecy — one of the 1st prophecies about the Messiah.

This is connected with the Gospel because Jesus begins His ministry teaching the word of God to the people of God — like Moses — and shows that He is not a false prophet by his supernatural power — like Moses (10 plagues, bread from heaven, water from the rock, etc).

Responsorial: Psalm 95:1–2, 6–9

Meribah (“testing” in Hebrew, see Ex 17) and Massah (“contention” in Hebrew, see Num 20) were two places where the Israelites grumbled against God and Moses struck the rock in order to give them water. So here are two of the miracles that Moses performs to show that he is the prophet from God and to lead the Israelites to faith (parallel with the miracle Jesus performed in Gospel to lead them to faith) (Dr. Pitre).

Second Reading: 1 Corinthians 7:32–35

This passage must be balanced against Paul’s “household rules” in Col 3 and 1 Tim 2-5 to show that he does not intend to counsel men not to marry nor to practice a secular occupation but rather to make some observations about the normal characteristics of worldly-minded people (Balthasar, LW, 165).

Gospel: Mark 1:21–28
21 The disciples went to Capernaum; and when the sabbath came, Jesus entered the synagogue and taught.

Since the synagogues were lay-led assemblies (compared to the Temple in Jerusalem run by priests), Jesus was able to teach.

The synagogue was the place of teaching and instruction. The synagogue service consisted of only three things: prayer, the reading of God’s word, and the exposition of it. Since synagogue’s did not have a permanent preacher or teacher, the ruler of the synagogue (the one responsible for the administration of the affairs of the synagogue and for the arrangements for its services) could call on any competent person to give the address and the exposition… That is why Jesus was able to open his campaign in the synagogues (William Barclay).

22 They were astounded at his teaching, for he taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes.

Jesus taught as one who had “authority”, or exousia, in Greek, meaning authority with a certain power or dynamism. In this context, Jesus’ authority emerged from his supernatural authoritative signs.

“To the people it was like a breeze from heaven to hear someone speak like that. The terrific, positive certainty of Jesus was the very antithesis of the careful quotations of the Scribes. The note of personal authority rang out–and that is a note which captures the ear of every man” (William Barclay).

23 Just then there was in their synagogue a man with an unclean spirit,

“Just then”, or “immediately”, utheós in Greek, is Mark’s favourite word to describe Jesus’ activism.

“Unclean spirit” (pneuma in Greek) was a common 1st century Jewish to describe a spiritual being who is not good or holy — a demon.

24 and he cried out, “What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us?

The demon admits “not just that Jesus has power over him but that part of Jesus’ mission is to destroy the power of Satan” (Dr. Pitre).

We can also see a cryptic allusion to Genesis 3:15, where ancient Jews saw a prophecy about the ability of the Messiah to destroy the power of the devil and his demons (Dr. Pitre).

“It was appropriate, since death first entered into the world through the devil’s envy, that the healing medicine of salvation should first operate against him.… The presence of the Saviour is the torment of the devils” (Bede).

I know who you are, the Holy One of God.”

The Messianic secret of Mark emerges in the fact that the demons know the real & secret identity of Christ (Jesus tries to keep His identity secret until the right time).

Mark’s “Messianic Secret” = Jesus seems to hide his identity as the Son of God until it is made apparent after his death on the cross… the simplest meaning of the narrative is that demonic knowledge of him, although it invokes a true title, does not catch the mystery of the person (which, as we shall see, involves suffering and death).  ~ Raymond Brown, INT, 129

Interesting to note the title — “the Holy One of God” — because in the Old Testament, the holy one is a title for the high priest (Ps 106:16).  “This was the title for the high priest because the high priest would wear a signet on his forehead that actually said Kadosh l’Adonai, in Hebrew, holy to the Lord, so I mean, he was literally the holy one, he had holy written on his forehead to identify him” (Dr. Pitre). Therefore, the demons recognize Jesus as the Priestly Messiah who has spiritual power and authority over the demonic.   

“Those words show clearly that the demons had much knowledge, but entirely lacked love” (Augustine, City of God, 9.21).

How the Demons’ Confession Differed from Peter’s. Call to mind with me the time when Peter was praised and called blessed. Was it because he merely said, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God”? No, he who pronounced him blessed regarded not merely the sound of his words, but the affections of his heart. Compare that with the words of the demons who said almost the same thing: “We know who you are, the Son of God,” just as Peter had confessed him as “Son of God.” So what is the difference? Peter spoke in love, but the demons in fear.… So tell us how faith is to be defined, if even the devils can believe and tremble? Only the faith that works by love is faith. ~ Augustine: Sermons on New Testament Lessons 40.8.

25 But Jesus rebuked him, saying, “Be silent, and come out of him!26 And the unclean spirit, convulsing him and crying with a loud voice, came out of him.

Whereas ordinary Jewish and pagan exorcist used elaborate incantations and spells and magical rites, Jesus with one word of clear, simple, brief authority exorcised the demon from a man. No one had ever seen anything like this before. The power was not in the spell, the formula, the incantation, the elaborate rite; the power was in Jesus and men were astonished. ~ William Barclay

27 They were all amazed, and they kept on asking one another, “What is this? A new teaching—with authority! He commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey him.” 28 At once his fame began to spread throughout the surrounding region of Galilee.

Jesus’ authority amazes because he not only teaches the word of God but he also has power over the enemies of God — “Jesus the Exorcist” (Dr. Pitre).   

CCC 550 The coming of God’s kingdom means the defeat of Satan’s: “If it is by the Spirit of God that I cast out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you.” Jesus’ exorcisms free some individuals from the domination of demons. They anticipate Jesus’ great victory over “the ruler of this world” (Jn 12:31). The kingdom of God will be definitively established through Christ’s cross: “God reigned from the wood.”

Note:

  1. The coming of God’s kingdom is the in-breaking of God’s authority and power into a world dominated by Satan. Kingdom of God vs. Kingdom of Satan.
  2. Jesus’ exorcisms are a true sign of the coming kingdom (not just for show).
  3. Individuals freed by Jesus point to His ultimate victory on the cross.

Today’s Gospel challenges us to have a broader view of who Jesus of Nazareth is.

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