The Fourth Sunday after the Epiphany, 28 January 2018

Deuteronomy 18:15-20
Psalm 111
I Corinthians 8:1-13
St. Mark 1:21-28

Background: Sacrifice (In one form)

When thinking on ancient forms of sacrifice, we are tempted only to think of holocaust offerings in which the whole of the victim was offered up. There were other forms of sacrifice, however, and some of them had more than a cultic utility, but a social utility as well. Common amongst these is the Communion Sacrifice, in which the offering became a part of the meal that was shared between the people and the god being honored. We know this to be a part of the practice attested to in the Hebrew Scriptures, and it becomes the focus point of Paul’s injunctions in the First Letter to the Corinthians where he wades into the controversy of the eating of meat first offered to idols. We know the psychology of this rite in the English word “companion” the clues being the words “com” (with) and “pan” (bread). The eating of such an offering had as its subtext that the offering was being shared between god and worshipper, thus indicating a relationship. Thus, Paul’s concern which he addresses with the Corinthians.

First Reading: Deuteronomy 18:15-20

Moses said: The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among your own people; you shall heed such a prophet. This is what you requested of the Lord your God at Horeb on the day of the assembly when you said: “If I hear the voice of the Lord my God any more, or ever again see this great fire, I will die.” Then the Lord replied to me: “They are right in what they have said. I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their own people; I will put my words in the mouth of the prophet, who shall speak to them everything that I command. Anyone who does not heed the words that the prophet shall speak in my name, I myself will hold accountable. But any prophet who speaks in the name of other gods, or who presumes to speak in my name a word that I have not commanded the prophet to speak—that prophet shall die.”

The gift of prophecy has in our time been explained as some kind of fortune or future telling, but that is not its purpose in the Hebrew Scriptures. As this reading explains to us the purpose is of giving God’s message – hearing God’s word and then transmitting it to the people. Thus, in verse 18 we understand the function, “I shall put my words in his mouth.” It is not like other religions where livers, entrails, or smoke delivered the message. Here it is the word, the daver” that is pointed to as the origin of the message. The message is to be recognized as worth in so far as it represents the “truth” – a difficult test. Read on to verse 22 to see the completion of this reading on prophecy.

Breaking open Deuteronomy:
1.      In what ways was Moses a prophet?
2.      What is the message that he gave?
3.      What is the truth he wanted to be acknowledged?

Psalm 111 Confitebor tibi

I will give thanks to the Lord with my whole heart, *
in the assembly of the upright, in the congregation.
2      Great are the deeds of the Lord! *
they are studied by all who delight in them.
3      His work is full of majesty and splendor, *
and his righteousness endures for ever.
4      He makes his marvelous works to be remembered; *
the Lord is gracious and full of compassion.
5      He gives food to those who fear him; *
he is ever mindful of his covenant.
6      He has shown his people the power of his works *
in giving them the lands of the nations.
7      The works of his hands are faithfulness and justice; *
all his commandments are sure.
8      They stand fast for ever and ever, *
because they are done in truth and equity.
9      He sent redemption to his people;
he commanded his covenant for ever; *
holy and awesome is his Name.
10    The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom; *
those who act accordingly have a good understanding;
his praise endures for ever.

This is a psalm of praise, detailing all the attributes of God in an acrostic psalm. It covers a whole multitude of blessings rather than just focusing on one. It is an address to a select assembly, “assembly of the upright”, and to a much larger group, “the congregation.” In a way, this psalm is a commentary on the Deuteronomic text, explaining and exhibiting the force of God’s word amongst the people. Robert Alter’s translation of verse 6 is a good example of this. “The power of his deeds he told his people.[1] The telling by words gives the people the evidence of God’s presence and beneficence. The last verse is a common doxology, but one that refers to God’s wisdom, the beginning of knowledge and understanding.

Breaking open Psalm 111:
1.     Where do you find wisdom?
2.     Where in the Bible do you find wisdom?
3.     What is your own wisdom?

Second Reading: I Corinthians 8:1-13

Now concerning food sacrificed to idols: we know that “all of us possess knowledge.” Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up. Anyone who claims to know something does not yet have the necessary knowledge; but anyone who loves God is known by him.

Hence, as to the eating of food offered to idols, we know that “no idol in the world really exists,” and that “there is no God but one.” Indeed, even though there may be so-called gods in heaven or on earth—as in fact there are many gods and many lords— yet for us there is one God, the Father, from whom are all things and for whom we exist, and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things and through whom we exist.

It is not everyone, however, who has this knowledge. Since some have become so accustomed to idols until now, they still think of the food they eat as food offered to an idol; and their conscience, being weak, is defiled. “Food will not bring us close to God.” We are no worse off if we do not eat, and no better off if we do. But take care that this liberty of yours does not somehow become a stumbling block to the weak. For if others see you, who possess knowledge, eating in the temple of an idol, might they not, since their conscience is weak, be encouraged to the point of eating food sacrificed to idols? So, by your knowledge those weak believers for whom Christ died are destroyed. But when you thus sin against members of your family, and wound their conscience when it is weak, you sin against Christ. Therefore, if food is a cause of their falling, I will never eat meat, so that I may not cause one of them to fall.

Paul wrestles with the problems of living as a Christian in a polytheistic or polycultic cultic culture. So, he addresses the problems of idol food and worship. He does not set out strict guidelines but rather refers to the principle of self-sacrifice. He gives up a practice that he is free to indulge in under the Gospel for the sake of “weaker” ones who might be offended by the practice. Even the knowledge that such idols don’t really exist, their rites and rituals still might prove attractive to those who are new in their relationship with Christ. In that case, Paul argues, we must give up liberties under the Gospel for the sake of the new.

Breaking open I Corinthians:
1.     What are your liberties under the Gospel?
2.     Which do you forsake for the sake of weaker brothers and sisters?
3.     What has offended you in the behaviors of others?

The Gospel: St. Mark 1:21-28

Jesus and his disciples went to Capernaum; and when the Sabbath came, he entered the synagogue and taught. They were astounded at his teaching, for he taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes. Just then there was in their synagogue a man with an unclean spirit, and he cried out, “What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are, the Holy One of God.” But Jesus rebuked him, saying, “Be silent, and come out of him!” And the unclean spirit, convulsing him and crying with a loud voice, came out of him. They were all amazed, and they kept on asking one another, “What is this? A new teaching—with authority! He commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey him.” At once his fame began to spread throughout the surrounding region of Galilee.

The disciples have been called, and we are in Galilee to witness the beginning of Jesus ministry. It begins with a sermon in Capernaum. Mark uses the word “astonish” some 34 times in his gospel. It not only marks surprise, but also a sense of wonder, if not belief as well. This is an interesting beginning, in that there is an emphasis on teaching in this reading, but it is the actions of Jesus that marks this evangelist’s understanding of the ministry of Jesus. Indeed, accompanying the teaching is an act of exorcism and proclamation. What astounds people is Jesus’ authority. Such authority is not of the human kind, seen in religious and social leaders, but spiritual authority such as Jesus exercised over the demons. The witness to Jesus is by the demon, who recognizes Jesus as “the holy one of God.” We see this designation in only two other places, Luke 4:34, which is Luke’s version of this pericope, and in John 6:69, where after the multiplication of the loaves and fishes Peter attests to Jesus’ status. There is authority in the rebuke that Jesus’ gives to the demon. For Mark, however, the real authority is Jesus’ word – his teaching. This is a good point to revisit the psalm for this day.

Breaking open the Gospel:
1.        What do you find amazing about the Teachings of Jesus?
2.        Who has spiritual authority in your life?
3.        What does it mean that Jesus is the “Holy One of God”?

After breaking open the Word, you might want to pray the Collect for Sunday. 

Almighty and everlasting God, you govern all things both in heaven and on earth: Mercifully hear the supplications of your people, and in our time grant us your peace; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Questions and comments copyright © 2018, Michael T. Hiller

[1]     Alter, R. (2000), The Book of Psalms: A Translation with Commentary, W.W. Norton & Company, New York, Kindle Edition, Location 8834.


Popular posts from this blog

The Second Sunday after Pentecost, Proper 5, 6 June 2021

The Day of Pentecost, Whitsunday, 23 May 2021

The Second Sunday of Advent, 6 December 2020