Sunday Sermon for January 28, 2018, the Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B

Readings: Dt 18:15-20; 1 Cor 7:32-35; Mk 1:21-28

In the first reading today God tells Moses that He will raise up a Prophet like Moses for the people of Israel. We know there were many prophets in Israel; some have writings contained in the Scriptures, some are mentioned by name, others were members of a school of prophets. Among all these men and women who were prophets, none of them claimed to be “the Prophet” described in the reading today.

In the sixth and seventh chapters of St. John’s Gospel we hear people proclaiming Jesus to be “the Prophet” when they see His works or heard His preaching. Interestingly, as we see in John 7, some thought Jesus was the Prophet while others thought He was the Messiah. Clearly, they did not understand that both of these offices could be filled by the same Person.

We recall the prophet’s task is to tell the people God’s will for them. God speaks of raising up a prophet like Moses in the context of the people begging never again to hear God’s voice speaking as they had heard at Mount Sinai. Since they did not want to hear the voice of God directly, He promised to raise up someone to speak to the people on His behalf. In the Gospel, the people who heard Jesus teaching with authority were hearing God speaking directly, but they heard Him speak in the humility of His human nature, not in the grandeur of His divinity. Of course, most of them had no idea Jesus was God because His divinity hidden beneath His humanity. They had to use their free will to make an act of faith in Jesus, the Prophet and the Messiah to Whom they would listen and obey.

One of the greatest gifts we have been given by God is our free will. At the same time, it is one of the most powerful and awesome abilities we possess. We have the freedom to choose good or evil; to obey or disobey; be selfless or selfish. Without free will we could not choose to love God. Heaven would mean nothing to us because we would have had no choice in where we want to spend eternity. On the other hand, using our free will to strive for holiness and virtue with all of the sufferings and rejections these entail, will make Heaven well worth it. Something requiring work and sacrifice is always worth more to a person.

So, we have the freedom to listen to the words of Jesus, the Prophet raised up by God, or ignore them; to choose Him to be Lord or not. If He is Lord of my life, then I we must choose to obey Him; if I am Lord of my life, then I only need to obey my own whims and wants. Notice in the Gospel that the demons did not have a choice regarding obedience. They made their choice before the world was created. In rejecting God and His plan for the salvation of humanity, they chose to disobey God. The irony is they had no choice when they heard the Lord’s voice they had to obey.

After we die, we will need also to obey. Those who go to Heaven have chosen to love and obey the words of the Lord. Those who do not go to Heaven have chosen to love and obey themselves which, ironically, forces them to do only what they do not want to do. Either way, we will all be obedient to someone: to One Who loves us and wills only what is the best for us, or to one who hates us and wills only what is best for himself.

Life in this world is about making the choice of where we will spend eternity and to whom we will be obedient. The evil one tells us that to serve ourselves is freedom. Of course, he is a liar; to serve ourselves is license, not freedom. To serve God is true freedom because it fulfills the purpose for which we were created: to love and to be loved. In this line of thinking we need to consider what St. Paul teaches in the second reading about being free.

He tells us married people are anxious about pleasing their spouse while unmarried people are anxious about pleasing the Lord. The Church recognizes marriage as a vocation and, therefore, when God calls a person to marriage, it would be wrong to suggest that person is not serving the Lord in the married state. St. Paul is not suggesting that married persons are not serving the Lord; rather, he recognizes there are more things to distract a person in the married state. Regardless of your vocation, use your free will to choose God’s will to love and obey the Lord!

Fr. Altier’s column appears regularly in The Wanderer, a national Catholic weekly published in St. Paul, Minn. For information about subscribing to The Wanderer, please visit www.thewandererpress.com.

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