Wednesday, January 25, 2012

The Word of Jesus--Laden with Power and Authority

An Exegetical Reflection on the Gospel of the Fourth Sunday of Year B, Mark 1:21-28. January 29, 2012.

WHEN SOME POLITICIANS expound their platform and make promises during election campaigns, many people do not care to listen, even though they hear them speak. For them, their talks are merely part of the political rigmarole and circuses. Their speeches are grand, but their words are empty. In fact, they have become cynical to these politicians because they know that for the most part the latter's words and promises are never fulfilled. To put it differently, what they utter are devoid of authority. Hence, people hardly believe their words, which are scarcely any guide for them to listen and follow. Of course, some of those with empty words do win in elections, but that is because of things that do not come from the upper orifice, which are translated into votes. Even so, their words remain empty, and so they do not deliver the goods. Meanwhile, the people remain in the morass of evil.

But it is God's will that all be saved from evil and come to the knowledge of the truth (1 Tim 2:4). For this reason, he raised prophets to speak his word. Because they speak for God, their words have authority. These are powerful. The Bible characterizes these words as having “exousia”, which means authority and power. The prophet Isaiah compares the word of God with the rain and its effects: "For just as from the heavens the rain and snow come down, and do not return there till they have watered the earth, making it fertile and fruitful, giving seed to him who sows and bread to him who eats, so shall my word be that goes forth from my mouth; it shall not return to me void, but shall do my will, achieving the end for which I sent it" (Isa 55:10-11). Thus, the word of the prophet Ahijah about Jeroboam (1 Kgs 14:10) was fulfilled: the entire house of Jeroboam was utterly killed off, "according to the warning which the Lord had pronounced through his servant, Ahijah, the Shilonite" (1 Kgs 15:29). Because the word of God has authority and power, it can destroy, as Jeremiah says (Jer 1:10), but it can also save: "the word that has been planted in you… is able to save your souls" (Jas 1:21).

In the century before the time of Jesus, it seemed to the Jews that God has stopped communicating his powerful word: "There had not been such great distress in Israel since the time prophets ceased to appear among the people" (1 Macc 9:27). The Jews were dependent on scribes who were experts of the Law of Moses and were called rabbis. They extracted rules and principles from the Torah for daily living, taught and transmitted the Law and its development, and gave judgment. Nevertheless, the Jews kept hoping that God would send his prophet again: "The Jewish people and their priest have made the following decisions: Simon shall be their permanent leader and high priest until a true prophet arises…" (1 Macc 14:41). After all they were assured—the 1st Reading tells us—of God's promise to send a prophet: "I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their kinsmen, and will put words into his mouth; he shall tell them all I have commanded him" (Deut 18:18).

In today's Gospel, Mark would have us understand that by his coming, Jesus fulfilled this prophecy in Deuteronomy and the Jewish expectation. And elsewhere in the New Testament, we are told that God has finally spoken to us through his Son (Heb 1:1). In Jesus the Word, therefore, we have an infallible guide for human thinking and living, and a power to salvation. The Gospel tells us how Jesus spoke: "The people were astonished at his teaching, for he taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes… 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'" (Mark 1:27).

This poses the question: now that Jesus is taken up to the heavens, through whom does God speak with authority to us? God speaks his authoritative word through the Scriptures: "All scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for refutation, for correction, and for training in righteousness, so that one who belongs to God may be competent, equipped for every good work" (2 Tim 3:16). The Gospel remains powerful, as is shown in Thessalonica, where it came to the people in power and in the holy spirit, and they became imitators of Paul and Jesus himself (1 Thess 1:5-9). That is why the Bible is important to us. Also, God speaks through the ministers of the Church, who have been charged to preach the Gospel (2 Tim 4:2-5) to move us. And, according to the 2nd Reading, he likewise speaks to us through those persons, married or unmarried, who by their lives prophesy here and now the possibilities of the life to come (1 Cor 7:35).

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