Reading Ramblings – February 1, 2015

Reading Ramblings

Date: Fourth Sunday after the Epiphany, February 1, 2015

Texts: Deuteronomy 18:15-20; Psalm 111; 1 Corinthians 8:1-3; Mark 1:21-28

Context: As we continue the “in-between time” between Epiphany and Lent, we again focus on the Word of God, and particularly the one who will bear it. Moses is the bringer of God’s Word to God’s people quite literally – in Exodus 20 after the Lord revealed the Ten Commandments to the Israelites in his own voice, the people pleaded that God would not speak directly to them again, but rather would speak to Moses and Moses could bring them his Word. Moses however points to one greater than him who also will speak the Word of the Lord to his people. That person is Jesus, who comes with authority as the Word of God made flesh, to speak the Word of God to God’s people.

Deuteronomy 18:15-20 – Deuteronomy ends with the death of Moses, and the book functions in large regard as a recap, a final farewell teaching to the people of God before Moses dies. But Moses also warns the people to be on the watch for another one. There were judges years after Moses who God used to rally his people to repentance. There were kings who were to ensure that the people of God were free to respond to his Word. There were plenty of prophets who came after Moses and spoke the word of God with authority. Yet Moses is specific. He speaks singularly, one individual in particular is the one God’s people must watch for, and listen to.

Psalm 111 – A psalm of praise for the Lord, and an exhortation not just for personal praise but for corporate worship (v.1). Verses 2-4 generically praise all that the Lord has done and continues to do, including the fact that He causes his good works to be remembered, such as the Exodus. Yet his works continue, including basic provision for life (v.5) and their current position as a secure, independent nation (v.6). Whatever the Lord decrees is, by definition, good and right and not subject to change by our whims (vs.7-8). Verse 9 looks back primarily to the Exodus, but also to the many saving acts of God on behalf of his Old Testament people. But we appropriate this verse with Jesus the Messiah in mind. For all these reasons, God is to be respected and even feared, recognizing his perfect wisdom that we cannot begin to fathom.

1 Corinthians 8:1-3 – As we continue our extended reading of Paul’s first letter to the church in Corinth, Paul moves from marital consideration to another issue that concerned the Corinthians – what food they should avoid as possibly associated with pagan practices and offerings. Paul prefaces his treatment of this subject with a more general precept – when we act only out of what we know, out of our own cleverness, we run the risk of pride and the dangers and harms that come with it. When we seek to act out of love for God, and therefore love for our neighbor, we are more likely to act in a way that is best for us and for others, even if that means limiting or not availing ourselves of the ‘rights’ our cleverness or intellect might be able to win for us. I wish that our conversations as Christians were more guided by this important precept. When we speak only out of a sense of superior knowledge, while we may be theologically correct, we may damage to our brothers and sisters in Christ. A healthy sense of humility, grounded in love for God and love for neighbor, should dominate in all of our conversations, particularly those associated with the things of God and our Christian lives.

Mark 1:21-28 – We see at work the one that Moses prepared God’s people for 1400 years earlier or so. The first public act of ministry that Mark records centers on Jesus’ teaching. His teaching astonishes the people (v.22), because as we are told later (v.27) He teaches with authority. It is traditional for rabbis to ground their teaching in a particular tradition or school, or refer to an earlier, particular rabbi for the source of their teaching. A rabbi is well-versed with centuries of scholastic commentary and debate on various aspects of the Scripture, and so might easily reference this rabbi or that rabbi while teaching.

Jesus apparently doesn’t do this. He speaks the Word of God to God’s people as God the Father gives it to him. He does not need to appeal to human teachers of the Word because He himself is the Word made flesh. This is noteworthy and impressive because of it’s unusual nature.

Perhaps this is what grabs the attention of the demon who possesses a local man. The man had not been there during Jesus’ teaching, but appears during or after it. The demon recognizes Jesus for who He is and speaks in fear – fear of destruction. The demon addresses Jesus publicly with his proper title. This may be an attempt to derail Jesus’ ministry. First century Palestine was a popular breeding ground for discontent with Rome. More than a few people grew weary enough to rise up in rebellion against Rome, and a necessary aspect of this would be rallying the people around them, both to recruit fighters as well as to secure practical help in terms of supplies, intelligence, etc. Some of these rebels were thought to be the Messiah, and some actually embraced that term.

But Jesus is not interested in being acclaimed as the Messiah at the start of his ministry. Messiah is a loaded term for his people. It is a term that implies military victory and political triumph. It is a term that implies that at least some of the issues to be addressed will be temporal and practical – deliverance from oppression, from Gentile rule, from brutal taxation. And true enough, Jesus’ ministry will indeed provide these things in due time. But not immediately. Not for the people of first century Palestine. Perhaps not for you and I today.

So rather than have people misconstrue who He is, Jesus silences the demon and forces him out of the man. The teaching of Jesus is reinforced with miraculous power over a demon. This was enough to get Jesus a much larger audience, as people were undoubtedly curious about his teaching, but also hopeful that his miraculous powers might provide them with relief from the demons or diseases which plagued them.

God the Father continues to respect the needs of his people. He does not speak directly to them in power and majesty as He did in Exodus 19 and 20, but surely the Father is speaking through the Son in a way similar to how He spoke through Moses. In a way that the people can hear without fear and terror, in a way that draws them closer, wanting to hear more, needing the Words that Jesus speaks and the life that He brings through them. Most importantly will be the words He speaks regarding his death and resurrection, as well as his words of promise to return after his ascension. These words sustain us and form our understanding of the world and our lives and the future still today!

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