4th Sunday in Ordinary time
Our 1st reading today starts with a reminder of when Moses brought down the 10 commandments from the mountain (Exodus 20: 10). There was thunder and lightening. The earth trembled, the clouds were thick, and there was a sound like trumpets blasting. It was scary; the people were afraid. They believed that they could die from getting too close to God. They never again wanted to hear the voice of God.
We believe God loves us, “and we long to see his face.” But have you ever wondered why God does not speak to us directly? Have you ever said, “I wish God would just tell me the answer to my problems”? We complain that God does not communicate with us clearly, making it hard to know the right thing to do.
In Moses day, there was an answer to the problem – people were called to be “prophets”. A prophet does not foretell the future; a prophet just relates a message clearly and accurately from God to a person or a group of people. Of course, that was no guarantee that anyone would do what the prophet said. The Old Testament is filled with the stories of people who found God’s message too difficult, or found the advice of other people more appealing, which always lead to humiliations and hardships.
Our Psalm mentions one of the occasions when this happened. While traveling from Egypt to the Promised Land, God gave Moses and the Israelites manna and quail to eat. But when they camped at a place which had no water, the people quarreled and rebelled against Moses’ leadership. They still failed to trust when Moses told them that God would provide for them, even after they had eaten the manna and seen God’s strength lead them out of slavery in Egypt! They rebelled against both God’s message and the prophet who brought the message. That is why the place was named Massah (quarrel) and Meribah (rebel). Once again, their fear had stopped them from hearing God. The Psalm is a prayer that we might to be able to hear God without a messenger.
Finally, our reading from Mark follows immediately after Jesus calls Peter, Andrew, James and John from their fishing to follow him. It is the first time Jesus teaches in a local synagogue and does a healing miracle. They know Jesus only as the son of Joseph, a carpenter. The amazement of the people is somewhat skeptical. How is Jesus able to speak and teach with more understanding and knowledge than even the scribes, who are educated, who read and write with ease? Why is Jesus so sure of himself and teaches as one with vast experience and understanding? He is like a prophet who confidently announces words which come from God, and heals, too!
The unclean spirit in the man recognizes Jesus’ authority. The spirit cries out, literally shrieks in fear of Jesus, as Moses’ people had feared God. The spirit is unable to disobey and leaves the man. The people debate among themselves, trying to understand what they have witnessed. But they cannot deny what they have seen, and the news spreads rapidly. The fame of Jesus builds as the people recognize, even if they do not name the source of it, his authority and his power.
If only Mark had recorded the teaching! We do not know what he said, only the stunning impact he created on the people. It is hard not to wish we had been there to experience what amazed the people so. We also wish we had the clarity of Jesus’ teaching and his presence among us.
But we do! We have 4 Gospels, 4 different and fascinating records of the life, teaching, and miracles of Jesus. We also have all the letters by Paul and others that have been saved. We have some 2000 years of church history and Tradition. Many wise and faithful Christians have left their legacies, their lives, their writings, their studies for us. It is an incredible and vast collection to help us grow in the faith. We no longer have to wonder who Jesus was. Jesus has given us the Holy Spirit; we have the Spirit indwelling in our hearts to guide us.
But what if we fail to read or study the teaching of Jesus? We are like people who read only the first paragraph of each chapter of a book and think they are ready to attend a book club discussion. We would be like students who don’t read the assigned text book, expecting a couple of important bulletin points to be emailed to them by the professor. Hearing just short passages on Sunday robs us of the crucial settings and background of why, for example, Jesus told a particular parable. Jesus often refers to Moses and Abraham – how can we understand those references unless we know those characters and their stories.
Have you ever been pressed to explain or defend baptism or the Eucharist, and had difficulty? Do we take the Traditions of the church seriously? Do we learn all we can about why we pray as we do, why we have the sacraments and the depth of their meaning? No wonder we are so hesitant to tell other people about our faith and what it means to us. For our message to be attractive to others, it must include our knowledgeable and personal experience with God as Father, Brother, and Friend.
Perhaps we think God is silent because we are silent about God. Perhaps we have stopped listening to God and focused on all the “thunder and lightening” of our culture instead. Perhaps we still fear God, because we do not yet know God. Oh, that today we would hear God’s voice!