Reading Ramblings – January 28, 2018

Reading Ramblings

Date: Fourth Sunday after the Epiphany – January 28, 2018

Texts: Deuteronomy 18:15-20; Psalm 111; 1 Corinthians 8:1-13; Mark 1:21-28

Context: We continue in Ordinary Time (though denoted as Sundays after the Epiphany), and a chronological progression through Mark’s Gospel account. We also continue the lectio continua through 1 Corinthians. Between the reading from Deuteronomy and the Gospel lesson, there is an emphasis on the authority of Jesus, an authority prophesied by Moses and affirmed by the people who see Jesus command unclean spirits to depart. This is the first miraculous working that Mark records, though we know based on John’s gospel that it isn’t the first of Jesus’ miracles. It’s definitely one of his first public miracles though. Moses warned the people of God to be on the lookout for a greater prophet than himself. And though Moses’ hearers would likely have assumed he was talking about someone within their lifetime, his words certainly find their ultimate fulfillment in Jesus of Nazareth, who like Moses would act as the intercessor between God the Father and creation.

Deuteronomy 18:15-20 – God’s people are to watch and wait for a future prophet. He will share a unique relationship with God the Father just as Moses has. This prophet will be one of God’s people – a human intercessor as Moses was the go-between the Israelites and God the Father. But what this future prophet speaks is very important, because failure to respond to it will result in divine judgment. All of which might make people nervous – how will they know a legitimate prophet? The test is simple – a false prophet will speak something the Lord has not commanded, and what he prophesies will not come true. The penalty for the one who presumes to speak on God’s behalf is death. The trustworthy prophet is the one enabled by God to predict some future event that does indeed come true. Thus, Jesus’ prophesy of his arrest, crucifixion, burial and resurrection are critical for fulfilling Moses’ instructions. This passage should also serve as a warning to those who would claim divine authority for their pronouncements!

Psalm 111 – God is to be praised at all times and in all things. He provides in many ways for his people (food, wealth, prestige, redemption) his covenant with his people takes pre-eminent place. Within his covenant He reveals the way that we should live, a way that is consistently shown to be true and superior to any other suggestions. This justifies the study of his word as a source of delight (v.2) as well as wisdom. To the one who wants to be or presumes to be wise, the first necessary step towards that goal is the fear of God, a proper understanding of the relationship between the God who created all things, and we who are his creations designed to praise and glorify him.

1 Corinthians 8:1-13 – A fascinating passage on the relationship between truth and love as we apply it in our lives. Paul has been questioned by the Corinthians as to whether or not they are permitted to eat food sacrificed to idols. In Corinth the various worship cults would have places where you could get food to eat as well. Should they avoid at any cost such food, or food that may have been sacrificed? Paul first begins with the truth – there are no other gods and therefore there is no difference qualitatively in food offered to idols than food that has not been. It as not as though the offering of the food to idols has in any way changed it, or made it theologically harmful in some way. This is truth, and those who understand this are correct in their understanding as opposed to those who think such food is somehow impure or sinful.

But Paul doesn’t simply answer a theological question, he drives further to say that what we do should be done in love and concern for our brothers and sisters in the faith, some of whom may have a different understanding based on their personal experiences. For these people, our correct theological stance is not in and of itself justification for our actions. Rather, we need to temper our actions with love and concern for our brothers and sisters in the faith. Because more important than being proved right is acting out of love and concern for one another, soas to avoid endangering someone else’s faith. Paul advocates limiting our Christian freedom and limiting the application of truth in favor of protecting the weak faith of a brother or sister in the faith. I’m sure that Paul would have approved of working in love with this brother or sister to better their understanding and confidence, but in the meantime he advocates limiting his own (and our) liberty on their behalf.

Mark 1:21-28 – Jesus faces the first threat to his ministry – a demon-possessed man intent on causing confusion and sewing seeds of discord among Jesus’ hearers. This is a frequent tactic of the demons – their identification of Jesus is not purely to show off their perceptiveness, but rather also to cause his hearers and followers to conjure ideas of who and what Jesus was and should be. Such confusion is something Jesus seeks to avoid throughout his ministry, avoiding the titles of Messiah or Holy One of God in favor of less politically and theologically charged titles such as Son of Man. The demons know who Jesus is, but Jesus also knows who they are, and his power is infinitely superior to theirs. If they intend to thwart Jesus’ ministry, they are sadly mistaken. Here as elsewhere Jesus demonstrates his complete mastery of the situation – and the demonic elements involved.

This authority prompts fevered whispering. Could Jesus be the prophet that Moses prophesied about? They are impressed initially with his teaching, a teaching that isn’t simply a repetition of Scripture and various rabbinical opinions about it, but rather an authoritative teaching centered in his own interpretation. But the demonstration of his power is what gets people talking about him. By casting out the demon He demonstrates a power that goes beyond just a winsome way of explaining Scripture. He brings with him the good gifts of God to his people, freeing them not just from ignorance but from the active efforts of evil to keep them from the peace and joy intended for them at creation.

So we continue to evaluate the many voices around us, looking for the sources of their authority and in some cases power. We listen carefully to see whether they presume to say things that God hasn’t told us, or more importantly to contradict what God has told us. We watch for other reasons we should take their pronouncements seriously, placing the burden of proof on God to reveal his true witnesses, rather than on we who are easily fooled and misled. God the Holy Spirit is still at work in the world, but so is evil, so are charlatans, so are those who seek not to lead and guide and nurture God’s people but rather exploit them for their own personal benefit. We are to be wise, and that wisdom begins with the fear of the Lord and the thorough study and knowledge of what He has said to us!

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