4th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle B

In the First Reading, Moses promises the Israelites that someone like him will come. Moses after leading the Israelites out of Egypt and in the desert for 40 years is giving his last will and testament. He knows his time on earth is about to end. The one he promises will come is not just some simple political leader: Joshua is already taking care of that, and many leaders of Israel after him. The one he promises will come is an answer to their prayers on Mt. Horeb. They asked at that mountain to deal with God face to face, without the need for Moses or anyone else, and the experience of the enormity of God and their own inability to respond to him filled them with so much fear at that mountain that they asked that in the future they always had a go-between, a mediator between them and God.

The Lord promises through Moses that a prophet was to come who would speak to Israel on behalf of the Lord, and in the Lord’s name, a prophet from among their own kin. And he reminds them that prophets who don’t come in the Lord’s name or speak his words will die. This is part of something else Moses says in the book of Deuteronomy that we didn’t hear today: Moses offers two choices on behalf of the Lord: a blessing—life by living in the Lord’s ways, or a curse—death for turning to other ways. Each prophet of the Lord in the centuries to come after Moses promised the coming of this big prophet, all the way to John the Baptist. In the Gospel of John, when John the Baptist begins baptizing in the Jordan, the Pharisees, who are now the leaders of the Jews, come and ask him, “are you the Prophet?”: they’re referring to this promise of a prophet that Moses made. And John replies someone greater is coming, and to get ready.

When that prophet comes, it is Jesus of Nazareth, Our Lord, as the Jews find out today in the Gospel of Mark. They’ve waited hundreds of years, prophet after prophet promising them someone greater was to come, and then waiting as scribes and learned men kept trying to help them understand what God was asking them to do in their lives by reading and debating over scripture and the Law that they had received from Moses. However, all these scribes and learned men who interpreted the scripture and the Law had to play it safe: they knew they weren’t prophets of the Lord, and they knew that if they spoke something that came only from them, and not from God, it would mean death, not just for them, but for many.

In this backdrop, Jesus comes into the synagogue and speaks the word of Life, because he is the Word of the life. And the Jews are astonished, because he doesn’t play it safe, like the scribes: he knows he brings the truth, he knows he brings eternal life, so he tells it like it is. The one Moses promised them has come. Even the demons know, and they know that their dominion over the world is about to be seriously undermined, and they start howling, like that man in the synagogue with an unclean spirit. So if the conviction of His words alone was not enough, Jesus gives the Jews a sign: he casts the demon out of the possessed man with a few words, and news starts to spread around Galilee.

These words and events don’t stay confined to their moment in history. Through them God is trying to say something to us right here, right now, through Jesus’ words and actions. Jesus has come into the synagogue of our hearts and lives, and he speaks to us with authority and with power. Even the unclean things swirling around in us, keeping us from heeding His word, are telling us that Jesus is the Holy One of God. The unclean spirit in the synagogue didn’t say, “Oh no, this scribe is intelligent, he’s too eloquent, he must have a degree from the Biblicum or Harvard, he’s too smart for us”; the unclean spirit said, you are the “Holy One of God.” No force of evil can withstand holiness, because holiness is a gift of God, and it comes to us through and thanks to His Son.

Our Lord wants to bring us holiness. In every Baptism he casts out unclean spirits, in every Eucharist he fortifies hearts against evil, in every Reconciliation he reunites sinful man to his Creator, in every Confirmation he strengthens apostles for combat against the forces of evil in the world, and with every Christian Marriage of conferral of Holy Orders, He helps Christians respond to their calling from God and receive help to answer that call through living a holy life. It’s not something automatic; we have to want it, and it’s something we have to fight for every day, in season and out of season, striving to accept these gifts of holiness so that they bear fruit in our life through prayer, sacrifice, and a constant determination for the good of all. It’s not something we accomplish alone; God has sent His Son to help us every step of the way.

The words of St. Paul in the Second Reading today help us all to take stock of how we are responding to Jesus’ invitation to help us. St. Paul presents two categories of Christian, and what they should be focusing their attention on: the unmarried should be focused on the things of the Lord, and how to please Him; the married should focus on the things of the world and how to please their spouse. This advice helps each of us to measure whether we’ve invited Jesus into our hearts and listened to his word.

When St. Paul speaks these words, we examine ourselves. For those who are single, am I anxious about the Lord’s things and pleasing him? For those who are married, am I anxious about the world’s things, and pleasing my spouse? The one thing we shouldn’t be anxious about is ourselves. Our Lord will take care of us, if we let him in our hearts and heed his word, just as he promised.

Let’s answer the words of the responsorial psalm today, by promising not to harden our hearts to the Lord and to the needs of others. Let’s examine ourselves, in the synagogue of our hearts, and ask Our Lord to show us just one thing in ourselves or in the world that He wants us to change by working with Him and His grace. Let’s ask Our Lord for the gift of holiness, which is the gift of his life and love, and to be an instrument of his holiness for others as well.

Readings: Deuteronomy 18:15–20; Psalm 95:1–2, 6–9; 1 Corinthians 7:32–35; Mark 1:21–28.