Sunday reflection by Very Reverend Stephen E. Salocks, Rector of Saint John's Seminary - January 31, 2021
On the Fourth Sunday of Ordinary Time, the Response to Psalm 95 sets the tone for God’s Word to us: “If today you hear his voice, harden not your hearts.” The words encourage us to listen to God’s voice and accept God’s word with joy and thanksgiving. God has spoken to us “in many and various ways by the prophets” (Hebrews 1:1) but speaks to us now most powerfully in His Son. We are called to keep our ears and hearts open to God’s commands and to rely on the power and authority of His Word.
The words of Psalm 95 are also a sober reminder that there is always the possibility of hardening our hearts when we hear God’s voice. The Israelites had hardened their hearts in the desert as they struggled to remain faithful to the covenant with God. They had ignored the voice of the prophet, which, in this case, was the voice of Moses, who represented the voice of God’s authority in their midst. Moses assures the people that God would “raise up for them a prophet like Moses from among their kin and will put my words in his mouth; he shall tell them all that I command him.” This is what it means to be an authentic prophet. Prophets were chosen by God to bring a message of hope and challenge to the people with whom God had made His covenant. Through the prophets, the Chosen People could interact with God and hear his message that clarified God’s will for them, that challenged them to return to the commands of the Covenant, and that declared to them God’s promise to recreate them as new people with God’s Word written on their hearts. The prophets’ authority came because they listened to the voice of God and committed to speak God’s word and not their own word; they were thus called to be God’s voice in the world.
Down through the centuries and millennia, God remained faithful and kept speaking and reaching out to his people through the prophets. Humans all too often ignored them, but God kept trying. Then, in the fullness of time, the very creative Word of God came forth, and God chose to speak by sending that creative and re-creative word to us in the flesh – His Son and our Lord, Jesus Christ. Just as the prophets of old had been raised up by God, so in today’s Gospel, we see Jesus acting with the same compelling authority as the prophets. He, too, received his authority from God and reminded all that they must listen to his word and receive his saving ministry as daughters and sons of God.
Today, Mark's Gospel tells us that the people were astonished at the power and authority of Jesus’ teaching. The passage relates Jesus’ first miracle in this Gospel: an exorcism that demonstrates the power of Jesus’ teaching. In their amazement, the people exclaim, “What is this? A new teaching with authority. He commands even the unclean spirits and they obey him.”
Jesus’ teaching was different from what the people had heard previously. Jesus confronted evil, rejected it, and proclaimed a different kind of kingdom in both his words and his actions. The unclean spirit asks the question, “What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth?” The answer to the question is that Jesus has everything to do with us. He powerfully offered his listeners, then and now, the experience of the God who offers salvation to all, even and especially to the lowly and to the forgotten, to those who were marginalized and those without hope.
Knowing who Jesus was, the demons rightly called him “the Holy One of God.” They were silenced not because they were wrong about his identity but because the time had not yet come for Jesus to be revealed. In this first chapter of his Gospel, Mark is still preparing us for the rest of the story as we walk with Jesus, listen to his words, watch his actions, and grow in appreciation of the authority with which Jesus speaks and acts. In this way, we will truly appreciate the power of Jesus’ cross as the moment when his true identity as the Son of God becomes evident (Mark 15:39).
Today, we pray that we will continue to trust the power and authority of God’s presence in our lives. As God, in Jesus Christ, lives to be with us and save us, may we continue to keep our hearts and ears open to His Word. Hearing God’s voice, may it make a difference in what we do and how we act – always in God’s presence and always ready to share God’s Word with others.