A Spiritual Warrior

January 24, 2018 - 10:44am
Spiritual Armor
Scripture Reflections for the Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Destruction is a powerful force.

When we hear of it, we often picture devastating events or moments. However, with the death of one thing, newness follows. Take, for example, the seasons. Every year, winter comes and the trees and flowers wither. Their frail, bare appearance is not much to look at. However, as spring comes, those very trees and plants come to life and are made new again.

Sometimes in our lives we feel that Christ is asking us to destroy parts of who we are to come closer to him. Why do we feel this way? The short answer is that we lack trust in him. We don’t see how fulfilling his will gives us fullness of life. Deep down, we don’t truly believe Jesus’s words: “I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly” (John 10:10, RSV).

 

First Reading Reflection

Deuteronomy 18:15–20

 

We find this short prophecy of the coming “prophet like Moses” at the heart of the Book of Deuteronomy. The whole book is a series of speeches given by Moses to the people of Israel before they enter the Promised Land. It is filled with history, laws, and guidelines for the future. At this point in time, Moses, the leader God appointed, will not be coming into the Promised Land himself. Once Moses is gone, how will the people know what God wants? Moses here predicts that God will grant the people a new prophet, one who can speak with divine authority.

While we could argue that many Old Testament figures fulfill this pre-diction, from Joshua to Isaiah and Jeremiah, the ultimate fulfillment of this prophecy awaits the coming of a New Moses. The Jews expected the coming of “the prophet” (John 1:21), and Jesus is the one who ultimately fulfills this prediction. He is the Teacher who goes up a mountain (cf. Matthew 5:1) and hands down a new law “as one who had authority” (Matthew 7:29, RSV).

We confront moments in our lives when it seems God is far away and we cannot hear him speak. It is precisely in these moments when we need a reliable source, a true authority who can speak to us on God’s behalf. Jesus is that voice, the “prophet like Moses” who gives us the authentic word of the Lord. His authority is delegated in a special way to the Church, which guards the Deposit of Faith for all of us to receive.

 

Second Reading Reflection

1 Corinthians 7:32–35

 

St. Paul, the greatest evangelist, traversed the whole Roman Empire planting churches, making converts, and preaching the Gospel. He was also celibate. In 1 Corinthians 7, he explains his teaching regarding Christian marriage and divorce. This reading gives us one of the central principles at work in his thought: that celibacy provides freedom from worldly cares so that a person can focus on serving God. Paul here describes one of the challenges of marriage—the need to care for one’s spouse. He does not reject the notion that married persons are required to please their spouses. In fact, elsewhere he lays down rules for exactly how to please your spouse (cf. Ephesians 5:22–33). Paul does not forbid marriage and says clearly that if you marry, you do not sin (cf. 1 Corinthians 7:28).

However, like Jesus (cf. Matthew 19:12), Paul teaches that celibacy is     a higher calling. The Church considers chastity in celibacy—one of the three evangelical counsels—to be one way toward Christian perfection rather than an absolute rule for all (cf. CCC 915). Celibacy allows those who commit to it to serve the Lord with an undivided heart. However, the Lord calls people in a variety of ways. As Paul says, “Each has a particular gift from God” (1 Corinthians 7:7). Each one of us must discern our calling from God and pursue it heartily with love and obedience. He knows the right path for each of us to follow.

 

Gospel Reading Reflection

Mark 1:21–28

 

This story of Jesus exorcising a demon from a man at a synagogue is the very first miracle narrated by the Gospel of Mark. Its placement signifies Jesus’s mission to defeat the powers of darkness and free us from their dominion. The demonic power holding this poor man hostage reacts violently to the truth Jesus is teaching, crying out Jesus’s name and taunting him. The New Testament provides several examples of the practice of naming demonic and angelic entities in order to gain power over them (cf. Mark 5:9; Acts 19:13). It seems that the demon is trying to assert himself over Jesus by naming him and his role in God’s plan (cf. Luke 4:41). When Jesus casts the demon out of the man, showing his own God-given power, the witnesses react with surprise. They are awed by his teaching, his spiritual authority, and the fact that even the demons are compelled to obey him.

If we put ourselves into this story, we might choose to be in the shoes of the witnesses who are awed by the power of Jesus, but it might be more helpful to see ourselves as the man with the demon. He is chained by the demon and coerced against his will to speak against Jesus; he is no longer in control of himself. Our own sins can become like this demon: enslaving and oppressive. When we lose ourselves in sin, we can be deprived of freedom, trapped in a cycle of bad behavior. But Jesus frees this man— and he can free us too, so that we can be “freed from sin” and become “slaves of righteousness” (Rom 6:18).

 

Discussion

 

Reflect on how Jesus establishes his authority in the Gospel of Mark and exercises this authority over demons. Consider how we can subject our lives to his authority as you watch the short Opening the Word video from Annie Powell on FORMED.org.  (Do you need a FORMED account? Register free here as our gift to you!)

It is easy to get caught up in the anxieties and tasks of everyday life—the laundry, the bills, getting dinner on the table, and so on. The cause for anxiety seems endless. Yet, Jesus exhorts us in Matthew, “Do not be anxious about your life, what you shall eat or what you shall drink, nor about your body, what you shall put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And which of you by being anxious can add one cubit to his span of life? (Matthew 6:25–27, RSV).”

In the Second Reading from 1 Corinthians, Paul exhorts us to be “free of anxieties.” What anxieties keep you from being focused on pleasing the Lord?

We all answer to an authority. Whether that authority is God or our family’s needs, the demands that work places on us, or possibly even an attachment or addiction in the form of over-eating, alcohol, or pornography. Jesus tells us, “No one can serve two masters. He will either hate the one and love the other, or be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon” (Matthew 6:24).

Jesus taught them as one having authority. What does “authority” mean? Who or what is the authority in your life?

 

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