29Jan 29th January. 4th Sunday of Year B.

Deut 18:15-20. Moses predicts the coming of a future prophet greater than himself, into whose mouth God will put his own words.

1 Cor 7:32-35. Paul urges those who are celibate to follow his example and give their undivided attention to doing the Lord’s work.

Mk 1:21-28. Jesus heals the possessed man in Capernaum and the people recognise the amazing power of his message. His fame begins to spread around the villages of Galilee.

Theme: Christ’s teaching impressed his contemporaries because he taught them with authority. The Church must continue to impress the world by the clarity and the authority of its teaching.

By Whose Authority?

In the not-too-distant past, Catholics generally felt secure in the knowledge that God’s will for our faith and conduct is infallibly passed on by Pope and bishops, with the teaching authority given them by Christ himself. Building on the doctrine of papal infallibility, our Catholic Church so strongly upheld the authority principle, that many felt inhibited from making up their minds on any important issue. Whenever controversy arose, there was always a strong statement from the Magisterium to put the issue beyond doubt.

Recently, there has been an unmistakable devaluing of institutional authority in the Church. Some welcome this greater freedom for individual conscience, while others long for a return to the clean-cut edge of dogma, defined and unquestionable. Perhaps we can get some light from today’s Gospel, where Jesus “teaches with authority, and not as their scribes.”

Our knowledge of God’s will comes to us primarily from Jesus, the Word of God, who makes the Father known to us. If we listen attentively to his gospel read at Mass, or give time to the private reading of holy scripture, the main lines of Our Lord’s teaching come home to us. Apart from reading or hearing the word of the Gospel, we have the prompting and guidance of Christ’s Spirit, if we take time to pray, to reflect and let our conscience come alive in God’s presence. And finally, to help us apply the message of Jesus to definite areas in our lives, we have the teaching ministry of the Church. The only valid purpose of authority among Christians is to keep the Lord’s word alive in the community, to keep us reminded of what Jesus said, and still says, to us his followers.

God knows, we need such a reminder often enough, due to the slump-factor in all of us, tending to lower our ideals, and cool our devotion. We’re often like a flock of straying sheep, needing the care of alert shepherds to hold us together, and keep us moving on the upward path. Yet, after listening with respect to what our leaders say – whether it be the Pope and bishops, or more locally the parish clergy – each adult Christian must look into his or her conscience, to blend the official teaching into our personal faith in God.

Some suspect the papacy of excessive dogmatism, and of a surreptitious stretching of the boundaries of defined doctrine. And it is well to expect our leaders to ground their teaching in the well-springs of the Gospel. Yet somehow, beyond and beneath all authority in the Church, and permeating it with vitality, is the prophetic authority of Christ himself, who is the Way, the Truth and the Life. Through him, in faith and loyalty, we can know with certainty what God the Father expects of us, and what we must do in order to gain eternal life. Just one thing is needed: to be willing to undertake whatever he shows us, no matter how difficult. If Christ is God’s fullest Word to us, we can have no reserves about doing what he says.

Against Satan’s Wiles

Today’s story is a close-up encounter between Jesus and Satan, an example of the authority, which Jesus had. It is necessary for us to understand this because, at a later time, he offers us that same authority.

Satan said to Jesus, “I know who you are.” That is an interesting comment, and it is represents something, which can lead us astray. Knowing that Jesus is God is not faith! It is no more than knowledge, and can often be no better than mental assent. It is what I do because of that knowledge that can declare my faith or lack of faith. Faith is in my feet, not in my head. When I step out to act because of something I believe, that is faith. When Peter stepped over the edge of the boat, he was acting in faith. When he took his eyes off Jesus, and became concerned about the waves, his feet lost their power, and he began to sink.

We are familiar television discussion panels. They are usually chosen from a broad spectrum, to ensure differing points of view. We notice how one speaks with a strong bias or prejudice, how another speaks out of complete ignorance and lack of appreciation of the issue; and then there is the one who speaks with authority. The contrast is always so evident, and the response from the audience is always so positive. During my years of teaching, I have many memories of teachers who spoke with authority, not with bullying inspiring fear, but with a certain conviction that held the attention of the class. The secret of the teacher’s control over the class came from the inner control he had on himself. The quiet teachers always had quiet classes, just as the noisy teacher always had a noisy class.

Have you ever thought of Jesus as your personal life-teacher? The gospels are full of his teachings. Just as the person who wishes to become a good swimmer must spend long hours in the water, so the pupil of Jesus must spend time reading and reflecting on his teachings. Do you have a copy of the gospels? There is such a wide variety of gospels available today, and many of them are pocketsize, and with modern translations. How can we honestly claim to be followers of Jesus if I don’t study and reflect on his teaching? He really does speak with authority. To some people it must seem unreal to try to enter into the mind of God, but to those who read the teachings of Jesus, the mind of God becomes clear and evident.

First Reading: Deuteronomy 18:15-20

The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet lie me from among your own people; you shall heed such a prophet. 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.” Then the Lord replied to me: “They are right in what they have said. 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. Anyone who does not heed the words that the prophet shall speak in my name, I myself will hold accountable. 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.”

Second Reading: 1 Corinthians 7:32-35

I want you to be free from anxieties. The unmarried man is anxious about the affairs of the Lord, how to please the Lord; but the married man is anxious about worldly affairs, how to please his wife, and his interests are divided. And the unmarried woman or girl is anxious about the affairs of the Lord, how to be holy in body and spirit; but the married woman is anxious about worldly affairs, how to please her husband. I say this for your own benefit, not to lay any restraint upon you, but to promote good order and to secure your undivided devotion to the Lord.

Gospel: Mark 1:21-28

They went to Capernaum; and when the sabbath came, he entered the synagogue and taught. They were astounded at his teaching, for he taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes. Just then there was in their synagogue a man with an unclean spirit, and 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.” But Jesus rebuked him, saying, “Be silent, and come out of him!” And the unclean spirit, convulsing him and crying with a loud voice, came out of him.

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.” At once his fame began to spread throughout the surrounding region of Galilee.