Select Exegesis
January, 26 2015

4th Sunday of Ordinary Time (B)

Dr. Terrance Callan

Deut 18:15-20 1 Corinthians 7:32-35 Mark 1:21-28


            Some people make those they meet feel the presence of something remarkable in them.  Pope John Paul II and Mother Theresa had this kind of impact on many.  Jesus affected people in a similar way.

            The reading from the gospel according to Mark tells a story about Jesus’ teaching in the synagogue at Capernaum on the Sabbath.  His teaching amazed those who heard it because he taught with authority and not like the scribes.  The scribes’ teaching was based on their knowledge of what other scholars said and on their own study.  Jesus’ teaching was based on his personal relationship with God.

            The reading from the book of Deuteronomy further illuminates this quality of Jesus’ teaching.  In this reading Moses reports God’s promise to raise up for the people of Israel a prophet like himself.  God promises, “I…will put my words into his mouth; he shall tell them all that I command him.”  The prophet like Moses will teach with authority because he will speak God’s words, not his own.  Because of this the people should listen to him.

            The gospel reading does not say that Jesus is the promised prophet like Moses.  However, Jesus teaches with authority because he too speaks God’s word.  His teaching is not derived from scholarship, but directly from God.

            All the people in the synagogue perceived the special character of Jesus’ teaching.  But an unclean spirit who possessed one man in the congregation understood why Jesus’ teaching was different.  The spirit cried out, “I know who you are – the Holy One of God.”  Jesus exorcized the spirit, increasing the amazement of the crowd.  But before he did so, Jesus told the spirit to be quiet, that is, not to speak about who Jesus was.

            Jesus' attempt to keep his identity a secret was not successful; his “fame spread everywhere throughout the whole region of Galilee.”  Mark includes it in the story to encourage us to ponder our own knowledge of Jesus.  If Jesus tried to keep his identity a secret, Jesus has not kept it a secret from us.  We ask ourselves how we have come to know Jesus and believe in him.

            The reading from St. Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians speaks about how we should respond to this Jesus who teaches with authority and whom the unclean spirits obey.  We need to focus entirely on how we may please him.

            At this point in the letter Paul is arguing that the Corinthian Christians should remain virgins rather than marry.  He clearly indicates that it is not wrong for them to marry, but he argues that it is better for them not to do so because marriage will increase their anxieties and distract them from the Lord.  Marriage will add anxiety about pleasing one’s spouse to anxiety about pleasing the Lord and divide them.  Paul urges them not to marry so as not to increase their anxieties and be divided in this way.

            Paul is not speaking to all unmarried Christians in Corinth; he addresses a specific group within the Corinthian community.  Perhaps these were people who had intended to remain virgins but were now reconsidering that intention.  In any case, this is not advice for Christians in general.  However, all Christians are called to respond to Jesus by making him the central focus of our lives.

 ©  Terrance Callan

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