Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Today’s readings present one of the major challenges of our life of faith.  It is the challenge to continue to listen to God’s Word, to what He is saying.  God’s Word is sometimes full of sweetness, and sometimes it produces bitterness and leaves a bad taste in our mouths and in our souls.  God has a wonderful message to present to us about love, salvation, and friendship with Him, and He has also has a difficult message about the obstacles that can exist to that friendship.  We hear three messages of caution today and are invited to pay attention to how we listen to and receive God’s Word – what He is saying to us.

The first message of caution has to do with the impact of prophecy.  Moses reminds the people that at Horeb they were afraid of the earthquakes and fire that accompanied the presence of God.  It was too much, they said – we are overwhelmed by the sound of your voice and the consuming fire.  It’s good to remember this when we’re tempted to think that we would be willing to believe in God if He could make Himself a little more obvious.  He made Himself VERY obvious to the Israelites and they basically said, “lay off, God – give us a break.”  We might think that we would react differently from the ancient Israelites, we might think that we would welcome the fire and the loud earth-shattering voice of the Divine.  I personally think that we would eventually react much the same as the Israelites did.  We would also say, “let us live our lives without all this insanity – we’re tired of it.”  Interestingly, God listens to their request and say that He will send them a prophet like Moses whose life and message will be totally Divine.  Like Moses because this prophet will be flesh and blood, unlike Moses because this prophet will be without sin.  Jesus is this prophet – who is so much more than a prophet.  He is God communicating with us in the most humane way possible.  We should be able to tolerate and hear Him better than the 24/7 action film that was happening on Mt. Horeb.  As He promises to send us a mediator that is perfectly adapted to us, God says, “Whoever will not listen to my words which he speaks in my name, I myself will make him answer for it.”  If we refuse to listen to Jesus, we will have to answer to God for it.

The second message of caution comes from St. Paul.  It is a message about priorities in this life.  St. Paul tells us that nothing is more important than God, nothing is more important than pleasing Him.  Again, if we only had to live for God one hour, or one day, or one retreat, that would be one thing.  When we are called to make God our priority for an entire lifetime, day in, day out, for years, decades, maybe even a century, we can lose our resolve.  Life is so full of things to do, so full of people, places, opportunities, challenges and difficulties.  One of the most fulfilling ways to live a human life is to get married, have children, and pass on love and experience to the next generation.  St. Paul cautions us because, even though our lives ought to be full, if our priority in life ever shifts from pleasing God, everything else is no better than a distraction.  Our faith is the most crucial dimension of our life, and the more deeply we understand that, the less ultimately concerned we can be about everything else.  Our faith is fed directly by hearing God’s Word, if we don’t make listening to that Word with our heart a priority, our faith will die.

The third message of caution comes from today’s Gospel.  It shows us what happens when faith dies.  The demons are compelled to recognize the sovereignty of God, they are compelled to recognize His authority and power, but the only kind relationship they want to have with Him is fear and hatred.  They have faith and they recognize the truth about God – but their faith is dead and so their hearts are dead.  They seek only to undermine the love and wisdom of God’s Word by tempting, disrupting, and bringing about chaos.  Ultimately, they have made their choice to deny God with their lives, but they cannot deny Him in their minds because they literally incapable of considering their own existence apart from Him.  They choose to live out a kind of metaphysical schizophrenia.  As human beings, we will continue to experience at least some fogginess about how our existence comes from God, but God gives us faith to support us in our weakness.  God wants us to know the truth, so He gives us faith.  God wants us to know and love Him, so He tells us the truth and gives us faith so that we can understand that what He says is good and true.  We are cautioned in today’s Gospel against keeping God’s Word at arms length like the demons do.  There are different ways and reasons we might keep God’s Word at arms length – maybe we are afraid of how it could change us, or what it would require of us.  Maybe we are afraid of being loved by Him, or afraid we aren’t worthy of His love.  Maybe we are upset about things that happened to us or to a loved one and we consciously or unconsciously blame God.  Maybe we feel indifferent and have a thousand other things we’d rather do than get involved with God.  Whenever we detect any kind of resistance in our heart, there is something we can do: we can pray, “Lord, I need you, I surrender to your mercy.”  We can let go of all the complications we’re holding onto and allow ourselves to be held by the only one who fully understands and loves.

Today we are challenged to listen to Jesus: “Take care how you listen; for whoever has, to him shall more be given; and whoever does not have, even what he thinks he has shall be taken away.”


We can be prepared to find some prophet even of impiety—and perhaps not just one but several—who will tell us of a word of the Lord, which the Lord has not at all commanded, or a “word of wisdom” which has nothing whatever to do with wisdom. His purpose is to slay us by the word of his mouth.1


To be concerned about the things of the Lord is not anxiety but salvation. Paul has just told them that he wants them to be free of anxiety.2


Looking after a wife and family is a worldly thing. Sometimes, just to keep them happy, it even leads to doing things which ought to be punished.3


It is the human spirit which either sanctifies or corrupts the body. If anyone tries to have a pure body but a corrupt soul, he will soon have to choose between them. Either the soul must be honored, or the body will be drawn toward corruption.4


Paul makes his case for celibacy, but in the end he leaves it up to the free choice of the individual. If after all this he were to resort to compulsion, it would look as if he did not really believe his own statements.5


Does no demon call upon God’s name? did not the demons say, “We know who you are, O Holy One of God?” did they not say to Paul: “these men are the servants of the Most High God?” They did, but only upon scourging, only upon compulsion, never of their own will, never without being trounced.6


Those words show clearly that the demons had much knowledge, but entirely lacked love. They dreaded receiving their punishment from him. They did not love the righteousness that was in him.7


Faith is mighty, but without love it profits nothing. The devils confessed Christ, but lacking charity it availed nothing. They said, “What have we to do with you?” They confessed a sort of faith, but without love. Hence they were devils. Do not boast of that faith that puts you on the same level with the devils.8


  1. EXHORTATION TO MARTYRDOM 8. Lienhard, J. T., & Rombs, R. J. (Eds.). (2001). Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy (p. 304). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
  2. PAULINE COMMENTARY FROM THE GREEK CHURCH. Bray, G. L. (Ed.). (1999). 1–2 Corinthians (p. 71). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
  3. COMMENTARY ON PAUL’S EPISTLES. Bray, G. L. (Ed.). (1999). 1–2 Corinthians (p. 72). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
  4. COMMENTARY ON PAUL’S EPISTLES. Bray, G. L. (Ed.). (1999). 1–2 Corinthians (p. 72). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
  5. Homilies on the Epistles of Paul to the Corinthians 19.7. Bray, G. L. (Ed.). (1999). 1–2 Corinthians (p. 72). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
  6. HOMILIES ON FIRST CORINTHIANS 29.3. Oden, T. C., & Hall, C. A. (Eds.). (1998). Mark (Revised) (p. 21). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
  7. CITY OF GOD 9.21. Oden, T. C., & Hall, C. A. (Eds.). (1998). Mark (Revised) (p. 21). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
  8. TRACTATE ON JOHN 6.21. Oden, T. C., & Hall, C. A. (Eds.). (1998). Mark (Revised) (pp. 21–22). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
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