THE FOURTH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME, January 31, 2021
(Deuteronomy 18: 15-20; I Corinthians 7: 32-35; Mark 1: 21-28)
The other day there was a review of a science book in the newspaper. The reviewer praised the author as exceptional. He said that the author can explain complicated ideas like dark matter. Also, the reviewer went on, the author’s Nobel prize makes him a proven authority. This author seems similar to Jesus in the gospel today.
It is Saturday, the day dedicated to the Lord. Jews come to the synagogue to learn about God and give Him praise. Jesus enters the place. It is not said whether he is a regular teacher or comes as a guest. Anyway, he starts teaching. As if he had a doctorate from Oxford, his words catch everyone's attention.
Then the cry of a demon interrupts Jesus' instruction. We hear many references to demons in the Gospels. They seem like leftovers from ancient times. But the presence of demons in the gospels is not without meaning to us. Here the demon represents lack of education. The demon that the master Jesus orders out of the man is ignorance, foolishness, and superstition.
Before leaving the man, the devil reveals who Jesus is. He is not an ordinary teacher but "the Holy One of God." To appreciate what this phrase means, we should turn to the first reading. According to Deuteronomy God has promised Israel a prophet who will speak for him. He will have God's own words in his mouth. The "Holy One of God", Jesus, is the prophet promised to Moses many centuries earlier.
The words of Jesus burn in the hearts of the people. They resonate with the hard truth that catches our attention as well. Take what he says about lust. Is it not true: "'Whoever looks at a woman with lust, has already committed adultery with her in his heart'"? Jesus also speaks plainly without lengthy explanations and multiple Scripture citations. In fact, on different occasions, the words of Jesus run against the Old Testament. He says, for example: “’ There is nothing outside of a person that by entering him can contaminate him; rather, what comes from inside a person is what contaminates him.’" Like the people in the Capernaum synagogue, we have to say that he speaks with his own authority.
Today the same thing can be said of the Church. The Church teaches with authority because it interprets what Jesus says in the gospel. In many cases, the Church speaks against worldly trends. We all know about her unpopular teachings on abortion and contraceptives. Pope Francis has been assertive with social doctrine as well. He says in the title of his most recent encyclical letter that we are all brothers and sisters: " Fratelli Tutti." Inside the letter the pope explains what Jesus would have us do for immigrants. He says that Jesus obliges us to make friends with immigrants. Francis continues that Jesus wants us to reach out to help immigrants start a new life free of harassment. The Pope is not inciting disorder. He insists that there are tolerable means within our reach to alleviate the suffering of many immigrants.
Human migration presents rich countries with a great challenge. The walls they build and the devices they use to stop migration are of little practical use. Immigration will continue. Instead of resisting it at great cost to life both physically and spiritually, we have to accommodate it. Pope Francis teaches us that immigrants are our brothers and sisters. Somehow, we have to accommodate them in our midst.