The Reality of God's Goodness

01-28-2018Pastoral ReflectionsRev. Brian F. Manning

In the Gospel of this weekend, we learn in our selected passage that the authority of Jesus was clearly grasped by the opposition. The dramatic yell from the demon, the spirit of evil, is unmistakable and beyond scary: "I know who you are!" This is to say, "You are the ultimate and absolute threat." Jesus has recognized evil and has taken its power away from it by naming it. And evil as a spirit knows this truth. Evil no longer has any power.

Mark characteristically draws very clear and defined lines in his Gospel writings. He illustrates for us that the reality of God's goodness is diametrically opposed to the power of evil that is tolerated in our world. At times this is the result of the conspiracy and cooperation of government systems and institutions that overwhelm people and keep them poor, abused and very much less in life. The words coming from this profoundly suffering man in the synagogue are upsetting. But the great question of the passage is, is there hope in the hearts of the people for him? In contrast we find Jesus, and wonder who is he that he held the fascination of the minds and hearts of the people. Jesus spoke of newness. He had no resemblance to the worn out and heartless teachers that the many, many poor always heard speaking to them. Jesus was dramatically different.

The first reading would have been well known by all the folks at Capernaum that day. They certainly knew well by heart the grace and beauty of the book of Deuteronomy, its literal name is the "second law." This book gave them the great and powerful prayer Shema: "Hear, O Israel! The Lord is our God, the Lord alone!"(6:4). We know by reading the book that the great prophet Moses was the human hero of the book and has primacy of place in it.

We should not be surprised that Moses is described as a prophet. We need to realize that he is the ultimate norm and the standard by which all other prophets are properly measured. It is very common for us to have confusion about the vocation of the prophet. We get confused with our popular culture which says a prophet is one who sees into the future and a religious prophet as one who speaks on behalf of God. Moses, the great one who speaks for God, clearly reminds the people that God will raise up a prophet like Moses himself. This prophet will speak in God's name, and note, only in God's name.

As a result we can transition quite easily to Jesus himself. We see him stand up to read the Scriptures in the synagogue of Capernaum. Those who heard him were astonished. The spirit of evil was enraged. The time was ripe. The Author of life was ready for battle.

Almost sixty years after Jesus' resurrection the "whole world" was changing. In his letter to the believers at Corinth, Paul writes that with baptism comes a new day that would yield to the supposedly imminent second coming. In the face of this grace-filled time of great expectation, we understand Paul's sense of the immediate. He advises his readers and listeners to be free of anxiety and to realize and that they also are called to devote themselves entirely to the Lord. Despite all this franticness, Paul nonetheless carries within himself an assurance and serenity born not of self-confidence but of divine grace. He deeply wishes this for the Corinthians and for us also.

God has raised up one like Moses and greater than Moses. Jesus is understood as good news for those who are willing to receive him. Note clearly in Mark's Gospel, the first miracle is a casting out of evil, an exorcism. All listeners understood that they were witnessing a new time in Jesus. We are to learn that with Jesus we can overcome evil and live in this new day of grace.