"Breaking Open the Word" :
James Cavanagh is the director of Evangelization and Catechesis for Metro-Area Parishes of the Denver Archdiocese. His weekly column, "Breaking Open the Word," is syndicated by the Denver Catholic Register, official newspaper of the Archdiocese of Denver. Click here to visit the Office of Evangelization & Catechesis for the Archdiocese of Denver.
January 29, 2012: The Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time
Synopsis: Most Jesus was much more than a prophet, although that’s how many people perceived him. The prophets said, “Thus says the Lord!” But Jesus said, “I say unto you!” This week’s first reading, psalm and Gospel focus on the authority of Christ and the power of his word.
In the first reading Moses assures his people that God will raise up another prophet like himself to lead them after he’s gone. Joshua will be his immediate successor, but in a larger sense Moses is alluding to the line of prophets after him. After the Exile, which ended about 500 years before Christ, the prophetic office began to fade away. By the time of Christ it had practically disappeared and many Jews interpreted Moses’ promise in terms of the Messiah and the dawn of God’s kingdom. The early Church naturally applied it to Christ (see Acts 3:22). The psalm echoes the first reading with the refrain: “If today you hear his voice, harden not your hearts.”
In the second reading Paul discusses practical matters concerning marriage and celibacy. The unmarried man (or woman) is free from worldly distractions and so can focus on the things of God and the spiritual life, while the married person does not have that same opportunity. Although Paul himself prefers celibacy, he does not disparage marriage. In fact, he has a very high view of marriage, comparing it to the relationship between Christ and the Church (Eph 5:21-32).
After the calling of the disciples in last Sunday’s Gospel, Jesus begins his public ministry in this week’s reading. The people, Mark tells us, were “astonished at his teaching, for he taught them as one having authority, and not as their scribes.” The exorcism, which takes up most of the story, is meant to underscore Jesus’ teaching authority and the power of his word.
Key verse: “A new teaching with authority” (Mk 1:27)
Catechism of the Catholic Church: “Jesus accompanies his words with many ‘mighty works and wonders and signs,’ which manifest that the kingdom is present in him and attest that he was the promised Messiah. Like a wise teacher he takes hold of us where we are and leads us progressively toward the Father” (Nos. 547, 2607).
Benedict XVI: “We must rediscover a taste for feeding ourselves on the word of God, faithfully handed down by the Church. The teaching of Jesus still resounds in our day with the same power: ‘Do not labor for the food that perishes, but for the food which endures to eternal life’” (“Porta Fidei” [“Door of Faith”] apostolic letter announcing the Year of Faith, Oct. 11, 2011).
Life application: We live in an age where questioning authority is common. A healthy skepticism of those in power is often wise. But sometimes trusting authority is a good thing, even a virtue. Christ’s words, which resound in the Church, are our compass in life. We can trust them because they originate in God and have stood the test of time. Jesus taught with authority in order to lead us into truth; truth that sets us free (Jn 8:32).
James Cavanagh is director of Evangelization and Catechesis for Metro-area Parishes of the Denver Archdiocese. Cavanagh’s column is distributed by the Denver Catholic Register.
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