4th Sunday in Ordinary Time – B • January 31, 2021 at St. Luke’s

Wouldn’t it be great to have someone who could give us information about the future – to let us know what to expect so we can prepare ourselves, what stocks to invest in, what things to avoid, things like that. Of course, I think there’s a good reason why God doesn’t want us to know exactly what’s going to happen in the future – we wouldn’t be able to handle information about the future in the context of the present. There have been some comedy sketches about the pandemic in which for example a pre-pandemic woman is visited by her future, post-pandemic self who tries to warn her about what is coming and how to prepare herself. Some of it is already kind of dated, like a warning about stocking up on toilet paper and getting out of the stock market. She also warns her to get a better internet connection at home, develop some hobbies to do from home, and things like that. The pre-pandemic woman of course is confused and doesn’t understand, and so on. It’s perhaps slightly amusing now, maybe a little annoying actually.
But although God for good reason doesn’t give us direct information about the future, he does give us little clues, so to speak, because he wants us to use our time wisely and to always be preparing ourselves. While we’re living in this world, we always have to be in preparation mode. And so throughout the millennia of human existence, the Lord has intervened in human history, revealing Himself more and more to humanity.
In the Old Testament, He sent prophets to the Jewish people, at times to warn them to change their ways because of impending disaster, at other times to promise them that better days were coming. In our first reading from Deuteronomy, Moses – the greatest of the prophets of the Old Testament – shares with the Israelites the Lord’s promise to raise up for them one day another prophet from among them, and “to him shall you listen.” This phrase – “to him shall you listen” – was a command rather than a prophecy of future events – the Lord urges those future generations that followed Moses to listen to the prophet that He would raise up, who will “tell all that [the Lord] commands him.”
We believe that Moses was prophesying about the coming of Jesus Christ, God made man, into the world. Jesus, the one who is the fullness of God’s revelation of Himself to humanity, who has now already shared with us everything we need to know to follow the Lord and to get to heaven. So God has told us what we need to know through His Son Jesus Christ; we have all the information we need. Of course, Jesus established His Church here on earth to continue to proclaim the Truth to us, to spread the Good News throughout the world, to help us get to heaven, our true homeland.
In today’s Gospel reading, which immediately follows last Sunday’s Gospel in which Jesus began his public ministry and called his first disciples, He goes into a synagogue in Capernaum in Galilee and begins teaching. And the people are astonished at the authority with which he teaches – he is not teaching them like the scribes, as the Gospel tells us, the ones whose teaching they usually hear. There is something truly compelling in what Jesus says to them – and in this case, we don’t know what Jesus said to them. However, what we need to know from this Gospel is not exactly what Jesus said in that moment, but rather that he spoke with authority – an authority that comes from God Himself. This authority with which Jesus teaches shows that he is the fulfillment of the promise Moses made to the Israelites long ago.
And Jesus’ authority is in a way confirmed by – of all things – an unclean spirit which had possessed a man in the synagogue that day listening to Jesus. This unclean spirit is the first “witness” of Jesus’ identity in Mark’s Gospel as the “Holy One of God.” Of course the unclean spirit feels threatened at the presence of Jesus, yelling out, “Have you come to destroy us?” And then Jesus confirms the authority with which he had been preaching, and further reveals his authority, by ordering the unclean spirit to come of the man, which of course, compelled by Jesus, it must do.
God speaks to us, even today. It often seems to us though that He is silent, that He doesn’t hear us, isn’t listening to us, that He has abandoned us. But that is a lie that comes from another unclean spirit. Don’t let your feelings or even your senses – these things can deceive us – don’t let them prevent you from recognizing the truth that God is always with us – He has not abandoned us, will never abandon us, and is with us now. And God continues to speak to us, through His Word, through the Church, and sometimes even in the stillness of our hearts, if we can be attentive to the Lord in prayer.
Do we listen to what God tells us? Do we pay attention to His words to us? It can be easy of course to ignore Him as I have talked about before. We can fill our lives with so much “noise” that we make it very difficult to hear God’s voice. It’s important that we seek out some silence in our lives, that we limit – greatly limit – all the voices that are constantly talking, or shouting, at us: news, TV, videos, video games, social media, etc., all the usual culprits. It’s necessary that we draw apart, just as Jesus did, to pray. If Jesus took time to pray, then what makes us think we don’t need to – or don’t have the time to?
Jesus is the Word of the Father who has come into this world to speak to us, to share with us a message of hope: that God is Love, that He created us out of love, to love Him and to be loved by Him. That all the inadequacies of this life, all the disappointments, all the tragedies, all the suffering, all the crazy things going on around us that we struggle to make sense of, are passing away. That God has something so much greater in store for us.
Whoever you are and whatever your state in life – and at whatever stage in life you find yourself at present – the message is the same and it is for you personally. Let us listen to Jesus; let us pay attention to him and be attentive to the ways in which he might be speaking to us. Let us follow him; be guided by him on our journey through this life to eternal life.