A Commentary and Reflection on the Readings for the Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time – Year B. The Liturgical Sense of the Scriptures Podcast, by Catholic Author and Theologian David L. Gray. READINGS: Deuteronomy 18:15-20, 1 Corinthians 7:32-35, Mark 1:21-28.
Our Liturgical Communion with the Word of God
One of the most powerful acclamations of truth in our faith is that part of the Niceo-Constantinople Creed, where we confess about the Holy Spirit that He has spoken through the prophets. Now, we tend to think of the work of the Holy Spirit speaking through the prophets as belonging to the Old Covenant, as in saying the Holy Spirit spoke through Moses, Elijah, Jeremiah, or Ezekiel. That is true, but as the Sacrament of Baptism raises us into a participation in Christ Jesus’ kingship, priesthood, and prophethood, thereby making each of the Baptized priests, prophets, and kings, we are now included in the breath of the Holy Spirit. In other words, we confess that the same Holy Spirit who has spoken through the prophets of old now speaks through those Baptized into Christ.
In today’s First Reading from Deuteronomy 18:15-20, Moses prophecies that “A prophet like me will the LORD, your God, raise up for you from among your own kin; to him you shall listen,” and the Lord affirms this prophecy saying, “‘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.” In the New Covenant, the principal method by which God has fulfilled Moses’ prophecy is through His Son Christ Jesus, in whom He has spoken all that was necessary for our salvation, and through the Liturgy of the Word, where God puts His spoken words into the mouth of the priest, deacon, or lector for us to listen to. In this way, the Liturgy of the Word is the surest evidence we have that what we confess in the Niceo-Constantinople Creed is true, that God speaks through the prophets.
One of the most noticeable marks of prideful people is that they are always inclined to speak their own words or even plagiarize the words of another to pretend they are capable of original thought. In contrast, the most noticeable mark of the prophets is their humility in desiring not to speak their own words but a deep yearning to speak the words of God. In fact, the prophet’s departure from humility will cost them life their says, says God, “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.” Indeed, let this promise from God be a warning to those who deign to personalize the liturgy of the Mass by replacing the words given to us by the Church with their own. In the Novus Ordo Rite, aside from the Homily, Universal Prayers, and brief remarks allowed at the opening and conclusion of the liturgy, all the Church has given the prophet to speak are the words of God.
Another way we can speak of the prophet’s character in their role as the liturgical voice of God is that the prophecy has sold out for God, meaning that the only care the prophet has is to do the will of God. Because they do not have any cares of their own, they have no anxiety of their own. In other words, the prophet has no desires, ambitions, or plans of their own. Rather, they lovingly and obediently desire what God desires, and all their energies are directed to accomplish the work that God has set before them.
In today’s Second Reading from 1 Corinthians 7:32-35, the Apostle Paul tells the Corinthians that they can be free from all anxiety if they live in this way, writing, “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.” While Paul encouraged the faithful at Corinth to avoid marriage to be free from its distractions, even married persons can take up this call through an intentional and audacious passion to live out their vocation of Holy Matrimony in harmony with any assignment God has given them.
Because the Word of God is a person, Jesus Christ, the Word of God is living, active, and transformative, and because the Word of God can take a dead thing and make it a living thing when we consume the Word of God through the letter and the Holy Eucharist, we confess with our actions that I am no longer just ‘I,’ but ‘I’ and ‘We.’ It would be wrong to characterize the ongoing conversion to union with Christ as a journey of surrendering or sacrificing the ‘I’ because it would be self-contradictory. To be in union with a person means that ‘I’ still exist, but that I am in harmony with another. The Holy Spirit has spoken through and speaks through the prophet, but He is not the prophet. Rather, the proclaimer of God’s Word is the one in whom the Word of God lives, and they respond to God’s indwelling by abiding in His presence and by proclaiming in word and deed that God is alive and active in the world.
Today’s Gospel Reading from Mark 1:21-28 finds Jesus of Nazareth in a Capernaum Synagogue on the Sabbath Day, where he cast an unclean spirit out of man by simply saying, “Quiet! Come out of him!” Indeed, one of the earliest exorcism rituals was not in Latin, did not require a priest to sacrifice an ox and pour blood everywhere, and only needed five very uncomplicated words. The best explanation that those who witnessed this event could come up with is that Jesus was offering a “new teaching with authority.” Imagine if they were around to see the word of God turn water into wine or a piece of bread into His flesh or wine into His blood.
Anyone can speak what is true, and with that, their words of truth will carry with them some natural effect and opportunity for grace, but what happens with the miracles of Christ Jesus and at the words of consecration when the priest is in the person of Christ is that Him who is truth, speaks the truth. He who is living and active speaks words that make the dead thing He is speaking to living and active. He who is fully whole speaks words that heal a wounded thing fully. He who is all holy speaks words to an unclean thing that makes it clean.
As it is with Christ Jesus, so too is it with those in whom Christ Jesus lives in and through. This is why our Lord promises that those who believe in His name will drive out demons, speak new languages, and pick up serpents with their hands, and if they drink any deadly thing, it will not harm them. They will lay hands on the sick, and they will recover (Cf. Mk. 16:15-18), which could be taken literally, but simply means what the Apostle Paul taught: that those who have committed themselves to union with Christ Jesus do not have to have anxiety about anything, because The Truth, Christ Jesus, the Holy Eucharist, which are idioms of divine and supernatural life in the Holy Trinity, is actively and intentionally living in and through them.
This is just one way the readings at Mass this Sunday connect to the liturgy and how the liturgy is forming us in how to live our lives in the world. Be in the world what you have received through the liturgy.