Opening the Word: Remain amazed

In Deuteronomy, we hear a promise that God will raise up a prophet among Israel whose prophetic power comes from God alone. The words this prophet proclaims will come from the very mouth of God. His deeds will be divine.

Israel will listen to this prophet, or they will suffer the consequences: “Whoever will not listen to my words which he speaks in my name, I myself will make him answer for it” (Dt 18:19).

In the Gospel of Mark, we hear that the final and greatest prophet of Israel has come — Jesus Christ. He comes to Capernaum, the place in Galilee that will be the center of his ministry. He enters the synagogue and begins to teach with authority.

Jesus’ authority comes from his own power as divine prophet, who speaks not his own words but the divine word that is his being. He is the Word made flesh, the one who proclaims the Truth he is.

And the Gospel of Mark notes that the gathered crowds are amazed, dumbfounded, gaping in astonishment. To listen to Jesus is to discover a truth that forever changes one’s existence. It is to hear a power that comes from God alone. Even now, when we listen to the Gospel at Mass, we should stand with mouths agape to hear the Good News that Our Lord proclaims in word and deed.

In Mark, Jesus’ teaching often is followed by a wondrous deed. He commands an evil spirit to leave a man. And the evil spirit recognizes Jesus as the “Holy One of God.”

This miracle is more than an occasion for Jesus to reveal his power as the prophetic voice of God. It is a sign that God’s kingdom has come, and the arrival of this kingdom means that the darkness has met its match.

The passage from the Gospel of Mark ends, inviting us to amazement. It begs us to ask ourselves, “Who is the one who teaches with such authority? Who is the one who even has power over the demons?”

The drama of the Gospel of Mark is that this question will eventually be answered. But as readers of this text, we must enter into the same spirit of amazement that the earliest disciples had in listening to our Lord. We must let the drama of the text unfold once more in our very lives.

Something of this drama is present in our reading from St. Paul. It is natural for men and women to get married. It is natural for them to have a family.

Yet St. Paul proclaims something else: “Brothers and sisters: I should like you to be free of anxieties” (1 Cor 7:32). He urges unmarried men to not marry. He exhorts unmarried women to devote themselves entirely to the Lord.

Such a teaching should be for us a source of amazement. If everyone followed Paul’s advice, the Church would have disappeared after a decade.

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But St. Paul presents to us a vision of human flourishing that is different. We are not made simply for what is natural. Rather, we are created to give ourselves entirely over to God. We are created to be amazed at the Lord.

Of course, as we hear elsewhere, married men and women can also follow Christ. They can be amazed.

What St. Paul is warning us about is losing our amazement at the power of the Gospel. Married or celibate, every part of our beings should be amazed at the power and wisdom of the Holy One of God.

Whose voice we hear every time we open the Scriptures.

Timothy P. O’Malley, Ph.D., is the managing director of the McGrath Institute for Church Life.