Fourth Sunday of Ordinary Time
January 28, 2018
First Reading: Deuteronomy 18:15-20
Responsorial Psalm: Psalm 95:1-2, 6-9
Second Reading: 1 Corinthians 7:32-35
Gospel: Mark 1:21-28
My first career was teaching religion in a Catholic high school. Newly graduated from college, I felt that my authority was pretty weak by comparison to seasoned teachers. However, I seemed to gain authority with the students the year that I became the Athletic Director for the girls’ programs, and coached volleyball and basketball. Interesting to reflect on what gives a person authority in any context of their lives. The question of authority resounds in all three readings we are given to hear this day.
In Deuteronomy, it is clear that the prophet’s authority rests in God alone. God speaks to Moses, assuring the people that God will raise up a prophet in their midst; thus, it is the call of God and not simply the desire of the individual. It is the sure call of God that gives one authority for the task to which they are called. God puts words into the prophet’s mouth, who speaks all that God commands.
Paul addresses the people of Corinth about their anxieties; that is, those concerns and relationships that get in the way of their relationship with God. Here too, we are given cause to ask about the authority(ies) we accept in our lives: spouses, children, religious community, supervisors in the workplace, tasks, deadlines. We are only too aware of the stresses in our lives, related in some way to whom/what we give/allow authority over us. Whether our home lives or our work lives, we can accumulate stress that impacts our physical and mental health, and most certainly stands in the way of the enjoyment of life, enjoyment of God. Paul says: I would like you to be free of anxieties. And so, may the authorities to whom we give power grant us the freedom of the children of God about which Paul speaks. May we claim such freedom, and so be freer to respond to our God.
The Gospel account is a familiar one about Jesus teaching in the synagogue. He taught them as one having authority and not as the scribes. One might suggest that Jesus’ authority comes from an “inner power”–in this case, Jesus’ oneness with God. The “authority” of the scribes came from their work alone, their role as “writers” of the word within the hierarchy of Judaism.
In the next part of the story, the unclean spirits obey the command of Jesus to come out of the one where they were. The bystanders, in amazement, wonder if this is a new teaching, that the unclean spirits obey Jesus. Jesus both teaches and heals with authority, with a new kind of power. Each of us has access to this kind of authority–in the freedom of the children of God!
So, on this Sunday in Ordinary Time, may we reflect on the issue of authority. And, may we recognize once again that the primary authority in our lives is God alone. Hopefully, such recognition will create transformation in our world where authority exhibits itself as power which can be abusive, if exercised apart from God.
How false was the authority that I gained as a teacher, simply because of my role in the world of high school athletics!
Sr. Sallie Latkovich, CSJ
Director of Biblical Study and Travel Program
Director of Summer Institute
Continuing Education Outreach Coordinator
Adjunct Lecturer in Biblical Spirituality