The Wonder in Front of the Prophet

Lectio Divina: 4th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B

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Roman Rite – Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time – Year B – February 1, 2015

Dt 18, 15-20; Ps 95; 1 Cor 7.32 to 35; Mk 1, 21-28[1]

Ambrosian Rite – Fourth Sunday after Epiphany.

Wis 19.6 to 9; Ps 65; Rm 8, 28.32; Lk 8.22 to 25

1) The sweet, strong and true word of the «prophet» Jesus.

Christ, who is stronger than John, has a convincing word, a new teaching that amazes and is authoritative

The Liturgy of the Word this Sunday highlights the figure of Jesus as the true prophet, who speaks and acts in the name of God.

The passage from the book of Deuteronomy describes the characteristics of the prophet, whose mission is deeply anchored in God. The prophet is the mouthpiece of God and his word is effective and creative, and those who do not listen will be called to account and woe betide anyone who passes himself off as a prophet and is not.

The prophet is not the one who predicts the future. The essential element of the prophet is not to predict future events; the prophet is the one who speaks the truth because he is in touch with God. It is the truth valid today which of course also illuminates the future. So even when the prophet speaks of the future, he does not predict the future in detail, but makes present to the listener the divine truth and indicates the path to follow.

At this point, one may wonder if Christ can be called a prophet. I think so. In Deuteronomy (see today’s first reading) Moses prophesied «A prophet like me.» The guide liberating his people from Egypt has transmitted the Word to Israel, made him a people and, with his «face to face with God», has fulfilled his prophetic mission guiding him to encounter God. All other prophets follow that model of prophecy, always and again releasing the Mosaic Law from rigidity and transforming it into a way of life.

The Fathers of the Church have interpreted the prophecy of Deuteronomy as a promise of Christ. They are right because the real Moses is therefore Christ, who actually lives «face to face with God» because he is his Son.

The Fathers of the Church merely clarify the passage taken from the Gospel of Mark which highlights that the prophet announced by Moses is Jesus who in fact speaks with authority and commands the unclean spirits that obey him.

In today’s passage of the Gospel of Mark it stands out that the prophet, announced by Moses, is Jesus. As it was usually done on Saturdays, the Messiah enters the synagogue, where the local[2] Jewish community used to gather to listen to and comment on the Torah that is the law. It is in this context that Jesus manifests himself as a new prophet, arousing esteem and respect in the men that however later will condemn him and will follow false prophets.

With this episode the Evangelist Mark begins the story of Jesus’ public life and starts developing his most important topic: Who is Jesus?

Two things are now clearly established, although if not yet fully carried out (the Evangelist will develop them along its entire Gospel): 1) Jesus teaching is new and different from that one of the scribes; 2) his authority dominates even the evil spirits.

2) The wonder.

In this regard, I would stress the amazement of the audience of the time so that it may become ours too. St. Mark wrote: «They were astonished at his teaching, for he taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes.» The same annotation- with some variations – is repeated at the end of the episode: «What is this? A new teaching with authority. «

Everyone was amazed, almost incredulous, but perceived, in his words, the higher power of grace, as St. Luke writes: «they were amazed for the gracious words he uttered» (Lk 4:22).

This is the authority of Jesus, of whom it is said: «A great prophet has arisen among us, God has visited his people» (Lk 7, 16).

In front of this «definitive» prophet, the attitude to have is the one of listening in full amazement. It is a listening that requires an attitude of inner silence and amazed attention, a sign of the desire for knowledge in which a welcoming attitude is born and raised like the one of the Virgin Mary: acceptance of the Word that in God is a Person, the eternal Word , of which John says: «and the Word was with God and the Word was God. All things were made through him, and without him nothing was made of what is created» (Jn 1, 1-3).

The Word of God is not a simple sound of voice that conveys a thought, but the word that works and gives life. It is a Word that saves and that, for love, was made flesh in Jesus of Nazareth, the Son of Mary the woman of the listening and of the welcoming. «Here I am. May it be done (fiat) to me according to your word… «(Lk 1:38), the word carried to her by the Angel, who spoke on behalf of God.

Let us persevere in imitating Mary, the icon of listening, and in whose womb the Word of God took a body like any other child of a woman. The Gospel says: «As for Mary, she treasured all these things and pondered them in her heart» (Lk 2:19).It is around the word and  the amazed listening that the passage of the Gospel of Mark revolves , a very short text that talks about the amazement of those who, in the synagogue at Capernaum, had heard Jesus of Nazareth comment  the Scripture «they were astonished at his teaching, for he taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes» (Mk 1, 28).</p>

I insist on the importance of wonder, because I think that the certainty of faith flourishes from the astonishment in front of a presence in the flesh. Just look at the Gospels, from the shepherds to the crib of Bethlehem to the angels that receive the Risen Lord in his body when He ascends to Heaven. Today this distinctive feature of the faith of those who bear the Christian name seems lost. Everything is conceived and organized as if the Christian certainty were -only or especially-the result of a reflection or a persuasive speech. The Church is the Master who teaches the truth, but it is also the Mother who gives life. As St. John of Damascus said «Concepts create idols, wonder generates life». I write this to avoid that our Christianity is reduced to a speech or an abstract method to teach or to learn conceptually because the concepts are always the imperfect explanation of personal knowledge. The substance of the revelation does not consist in the teaching of a doctrine, but in the manifestation of a presence. Cardinal Henri de Lubac wrote that «there may be an idolatry of the Word and of speaking that is no less harmful than that one of the images.»

I insist on the wonder to emphasize the importance of simplicity of heart and mind. The simplicity that the poor in spirit live is also the method by which God comes to meet us. What could be simpler than the cave of Bethlehem, the home of Jesus of Nazareth, the synagogue in Capernaum? The Son of God entered into them. The event of Christ is a new factor that enters into life. If each of us opens the eyes, the heart, the mind and the arms, Christ will come into our homes, bringing his peace and his truth.

3) Not only in our homes but in us, the Temple of God.

Tomorrow, February 2, the liturgy celebrates the Presentation[3] of Jesus. When Mary and Joseph brought their child to the Temple of Jerusalem, the first encounter between Jesus and his people represented by the two elderly Simeon and Anna took place «That was also a meeting in the history of the people, a meeting between the young and the elderly. The young people were Mary and Joseph with their newborn; the elderly were Simeon and Anna, two persons who always frequented the Temple. «(Pope Francis).

In the light of this Gospel’s scene let us look to the consecrated life as an encounter with Christ: it is He who comes to us, led by Mary a
nd Joseph, and it is us who are going to Him, led by the Holy Spirit. But at the center it is Him. He moves everything, He draws us to the Temple, the Church, where we can meet, recognize, accept and embrace him.

The specific sign of the liturgical tradition of this festival are the candles that radiate light. This sign expresses the beauty and the value of consecrated life as a reflection of the light of Christ; a sign that recalls the entrance of Mary into the Temple. The Virgin Mary, the consecrated one par excellence, was carrying the Light itself, the Word made flesh, who had come to dispel the darkness of this world with the love of God.

A particular way of living and becoming Temple and Tabernacle of  the Divine presence is the one of the consecrated Virgins in the world, for whom the bishop prays: «O Lord our God, you who wants to dwell in man, you who lives in the ones that are consecrated … grant them your support and your protection to those who are in front of you and expect from their consecration a growth of hope and strength «(RCV 24), that they may grow in their believe in love, bearing witness to the sacrifice of self in everyday life. Their being lamps that radiate the light of truth and love of God may help us becoming one too.

[1] “They came to Capernaum, and immediately he entered on the Sabbath in the synagogue and taught. And they were astonished at his teaching, for he taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes. And here, in their synagogue there was a man with an unclean spirit, and he began to cry, saying, «What do you want with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who thou art, the Holy One of God. «And Jesus sternly ordered him: «Shut up! Come out of him! «. And the unclean spirit, convulsing him and crying loudly, came out of him. And they were all amazed, so that they questioned among themselves, «What is this? A new teaching, with authority. He commands even the unclean spirits and they obey him. «His fame spread everywhere, in the whole region of Galilee. «(Mk 1: 21 -28).

[2]    In Palestine at that time there were synagogues not only in large cities but also in the small towns and villages. The Israelites convened there for prayer, the reading and the explanation of Scriptures. Not only the scribes and the elders, but each Israelite could ask to speak and intervene. This is how Jesus, in Capernaum, enters the synagogue and takes the floor to teach.

[3]The Presentation of the Lord in the Temple – February 2 – is the Festival of Lights (cf. Lk 2.30 to 32) originated in the East under the name of ‘Ipapante’,  ‘Encounter’. In sec. VI it was extended to the West with original developments: in Rome with a more penitential aspect and in France with the solemn blessing and procession of candles popularly known as the ‘Candlemas’. The presentation of the Lord closes the Christmas celebrations and with the offer of the Virgin Mother and the prophecy of Simeon opens the way to Easter (. Roman Missal.).

Today’s festivity, of which we have the first witness in the fourth century in Jerusalem, was named until the recent reform of the calendar the feast of the Purification of the Virgin Mary, in memory of the moment in the history of the Holy Family, narrated in chapter 2 of the Gospel of Luke, in which Mary, within the law, went to the Temple in Jerusalem, forty days after the birth of Jesus, to offer her firstborn and for the ritualistic office of her purification. The liturgical reform of 1960 has returned to the celebration the title of «presentation of the Lord,» which was its original. The offering of Jesus to the Father, accomplished in the temple, foretells his sacrificial offering on the cross.

This act of obedience to a ritual law, to the fulfillment of which neither Jesus nor Mary were compelled, is also a lesson in humility as culmination of the annual meditation on the great mystery of Christmas, when the Son of God and his divine Mother come to us in the moving but mortifying frame of the crib, namely in the extreme poverty of slum dwellers, in the precarious existence of the immigrants and the persecuted therefore of the exiles.

The meeting of the Lord with Simeon and Anna in the Temple accentuates the sacrificial aspect of the celebration and the personal communion of Mary with the sacrifice of Christ, because forty days after her divine maternity Simeon’s prophecy gives to her a glimpse of her suffering «a sword will pierce your own soul». Mary, thanks to her intimate union with the person of Christ, is associated with the sacrifice of the Son.

The rite of the blessing of the candles, of which there is evidence already in the tenth century, is inspired by the words of Simeon: «My eyes have seen your salvation, which you prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles». From this significant rite is derived the name of the popular festival of «Candlemas».

Patristic Reading

Golden Chain 6123

on Mark 1,23-28

Bede, in Marc., 1, 7: Since by the envy of the devil death first entered into the world, it was right that the medicine of healing should first work against the author of death; and therefore it is said, «And there was in their synagogue a man, &c.»

Pseudo-Chrys., Vict. Ant. e Cat. in Marc.: The word, Spirit, is applied to an Angel, the air, the soul, and even the Holy Ghost. Lest therefore by the sameness of the name we should fall into error, he adds, «unclean.» And he is called unclean on account of his impiousness and far removal from God, and because he employs himself in all unclean and wicked works. Augustine, City of God, 21: Moreover, how great is the power which the lowliness of God, appearing in the form of a servant, has over the pride of devils, the devils themselves know so well, that they express it to the same Lord clothed in the weakness of flesh. For there follows, «And he cried out, saying, What have we to do we Thee, Jesus of Nazareth, &c.» For it is evident in these words that there was in them knowledge, but there was not charity; and the reason was, that they feared their punishment from Him, and loved not the righteousness in Him.

Bede: For the devils, seeing the Lord on the earth, thought that they were immediately to be judged.

Pseudo-Chrys., Vict. Ant. e Cat. in Marc.: Or else the devil so speaks, as if he said, ‘by taking away uncleanness, and giving (p. 26) to the souls of men divine knowledge, Thou allowest us no place in men.’

Theophylact: For to come out of man the devil considers as his own perdition; for devils are ruthless, thinking that they suffer some evil, so long as they are not troubling men.There follows, «I know that Thou art the Holy One of God.»

Pseudo-Chrys., Vict. Ant. e Cat. in Marc.: As if he said, Methinks that Thou art come; for he had not a firm and certain knowledge of the coming of God. But he calls Him «holy» not as one of many, for every prophet was also holy, but he proclaims that the was the One holy; by the article in Greek he shews Him to be the One, but by his fear he shews Him to be Lord of all.

Augustine: For He was known to them in that degree in which He wished to be known; and He wished as much as was fitting. He was not known to them as to the holy Angels, who enjoy Him by partaking of His eternity according as He is the Word of God; but as He was to be made known in terror, to those beings from whose tyrannical power He was about to free the predestinate.He was known therefore to the devils, not in that He is eternal Life, (see 1Jn 5,20Jn 17,3) but by some temporal effects of His Power, which might be more clear to the angelic senses of even bad spirits than to the weakness of men.

Pseudo-Chrys., Vict. Ant. e Cat. in Marc
.: Further, the Truth did not wish to have the witness of unclean spirits.Wherefore there follows, «And Jesus threatened him, saying, &c.»Whence a healthful precept is given to us; let us not believe devils, howsoever they may proclaim the truth.It goes on, «And the unclean spirit tearing him, &c.»For because the man spoke as one in his senses and uttered his words with discretion, lest it should be thought that he put together his words not from the devil but out of his own heart, He permitted the man to be torn by the devil, that He might shew that it was the devil who spoke.

Theophylact: That they might know, when they saw it, from how great an evil the man was freed, and on account of the miracle might believe. Bede: But it may appear to be a discrepancy, that he should have gone out of him, tearing him, or, as some copies have it, vexing him, when, according to Luke, he did not hurt him. But Luke himself says, «When He had cast him into the midst, he came out of him, without hurting him.» (Lc 4,35) Wherefore it is inferred that Mark meant by vexing or tearing him, what Luke expresses [p. 27], in the words, «When He had cast him into the midst;» so that what he goes on to say, «And did not hurt him,» may be understood to mean that the tossing of his limbs and vexing did not weaken him, as devils are wont to come out even with the cutting off and tearing away of limbs. But seeing the power of the miracle, they wonder at the newness of our Lord’s doctrine, and are roused to search into what they had heard by what they had seen.Wherefore there follows, «And they all wondered, &c.»For miracles were done that they might more firmly believe the Gospel of the kingdom of God, which was being preached, since those who were promising heavenly joys to men on earth, were shewing forth heavenly things and divine works even on earth. For before (as the Evangelist says) «He was teaching them as one who had power,» and now, as the crowd witnesses, «with power He commands the evil spirits, and they obey Him.» It goes on, «And immediately His fame spread abroad, &c.»

Gloss.: For those things which men wonder at they soon divulge, for «out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaketh.» (Mt 12,34)

Pseudo-Jerome: Moreover, Capernaum is mystically interpreted the town of consolation, and the sabbath as rest. The man with an evil spirit is healed by rest and consolation, that the place and time may agree with his healing. This man with an unclean spirit is the human race, in which uncleanness reigned from Adam to Moses; (Rm 5,14) for «they sinned without law,» and «perished without law.» (Rm 2,12) and he, knowing the Holy One of God, is ordered to hold his peace, for they «knowing God did not glorify him as God,» (Rm 1,21) but «rather served the creature than the Creator.» (Rm 1,25)The spirit tearing the man came out of him. When salvation is near, temptation is at hand also. Pharaoh, when about to let (ed. note: Al. ‘dismissus ab Israel’) Israel go, pursues Israel; the devil, when despised, rises up to create scandals.

Saint John Chrysostom

Homily on the Letter to Hebrew, 5, 3; PG 63, 50

“Wherefore, holy brethren, partakers of the heaven calling, consider the Apostle and High Priest of our profession, Christ Jesus, who was faithful to Him that appointed [or made] Him, as also Moses was faithful in all His house.”

Being about to place Him before Moses in comparison, he led his discourse to the law of the high-priesthood; for they all had a high esteem for Moses: moreover, he is already beforehand casting down the seeds of the superiority. Therefore he begins from the flesh, and goes up to the Godhead, where there was no longer any comparison. He began from the flesh [from His Humannature], by assuming for a time the equality, and says, “as also Moses in all His house”: nor does he at first show His superiority lest the hearer should start away, and straightway stop his ears. For although they were believers, yet nevertheless they still had strong feeling of conscience as to Moses. “Who was faithful,” he says, “to Him that made Him”— made [Him] what? “Apostle and High Priest.” He is not speaking at all in this place of His Essence, nor of His Godhead; but so far concerning human dignities.

“As also Moses in all His house,” that is, either among the people, or in the temple. But here he uses the expression “in His house,” just as one might say, concerning those in the household; even as some guardian and steward of a household, so was Moses to the people. For that by “house” he means the people, he added, “whose house we are” Hebrews 3:6; that is, we are in His creation. Then [comes] the superiority.

Does God receive the witness of man? Yes, certainly. For if He call to witness heaven and earth and hills (saying by the prophet, “Hear, O heaven, and give ear, O earth, for the Lord has spoken” Isaiah 1:2 — and “Hear ye ravines, foundations of the earth, for the Lord has a controversy with His people” Micah 6:2), much more men; that is, that they may be witnesses, when themselves [the Jews} shameless.

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Archbishop Francesco Follo

Monsignor Francesco Follo è osservatore permanente della Santa Sede presso l'UNESCO a Parigi.

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