GOSPEL, FIRST READING & PSALM TRANSCRIPT (Subscribe or Login for Full Transcript):
Welcome back everyone to our study of the Gospel of Mark. Today is the Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time for Year B. You might be a little surprised by the title of the video today; I’ve called it “Jesus the Exorcist.” That might sound a little shocking because if you grew up in the United States in late 20th century like I did, when you hear the word “the exorcist,” you think of the famous horror film in the late 1970s, or the novel that preceded it. But if you watch the introduction video to the Gospel of Mark that I made, you will notice that one of the key themes in Mark's gospel is Jesus's identity as an exorcist, as someone who not only goes around preaching and teaching, but also as one who casts out demons, who casts out the unclean spirits, as Mark will refer to him and his Gospel. So today what we’re going to do, is we’re going to look at the Gospel reading for today, which is one of the first stories in Mark's gospel about Jesus’ exorcistic ministry. We’ll look at the section and then will try to explain it and put it in context. So Mark 1:21-28 is the Gospel reading for today and this is what it says:
And they went into Caper'na-um; and immediately on the sabbath he entered the synagogue and taught. And they were astonished at his teaching, for he taught them as one who had authority, and not as the scribes. And immediately 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. And they were all amazed, so that they questioned among themselves,
saying, "What is this? A new teaching! With authority he commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey him." And at once his fame spread everywhere throughout all the surrounding region of Galilee.
Okay, so end of story. Pretty striking opening passage from Jesus’ public ministry here in John (Dr. Pitre meant to say “Mark”). I mean up to this point, he's begun preaching in a general way about the coming of the kingdom of God and he’s begun calling his disciples, Peter and Andrew and James and John, but this is his first public appearance where he goes into the synagogue, preaches, teaches, and performs this wondrous act of casting out this unclean spirit. What's going on here? Well a couple of points. Number one, notice the context of Jesus’ action here. The day, Mark tells us, is the Sabbath, so it’s important to remember here that for a Jew in the 1st century the Sabbath is not Sunday. Christians tend to think of it as Sunday, but it's Saturday. It was the day of the last day of the week, the day that God hallowed and blessed in Genesis 1, and that Sabbath service would begin on Friday evening at sunset; that's when the Sabbath began. So Jesus here on this Saturday, on this holy day, has gone into the synagogue, just like all other Jews did, all pious Jews would do this, in order to pray, to read the Scriptures, and then to preach and teach; that's what they would do.
The synagogues were local assemblies, local gatherings, local buildings, where the Jews from the town would come together in order to worship God, but it's really important to remember here, that when we’re talking about an ancient Jewish synagogue, it was different than the Temple, okay. We’ve mentioned the Temple before in our studies of the New Testament. The Temple was in one city...
SECOND READING TRANSCRIPT (Subscribe or Login for Full Transcript):
...continues our journey through the letter of St. Paul to the Corinthians—his first letter to the Church at Corinth. And it continues our study of chapter 7, which as I’ve mentioned before, is Paul’s….it’s the chapter that deals with Paul’s teaching on marriage and celibacy. And for this Sunday, the Church gives us some of the most striking verses in chapter 7, because they are one of the places in the New Testament where Paul comes out most explicitly in favor of the merits of celibacy.
So as I’m sure you’ve noticed, there are lots of debate within various Christian circles about married state of life, as opposed to the celibate state. And of course in the Roman Catholic tradition, we have a long tradition of reverence in regard for consecrated virginity, as well as the celibacy of ordained ministers—celibate priesthood. And those are controversial positions that the Church takes. And it’s fascinating to me, that if you look at, for example, the history of the Protestant Reformation, that so many Protestant ecclesial communities so quickly abandoned celibacy (the discipline of celibacy)...when Paul, who, certainly for Luther and Calvin, was the great champion. They saw him as the champion of the reformation, as kind of the guiding light of some of the principles of the Protestant Reformation.
Paul himself was one of the strongest advocates for celibacy in the New Testament, so...and it’s these verses that we’re about to read in which he makes a case for celibacy. So let’s look at them together. This is 1 Corinthians chapter 7, verse 32-35, where he’s contrasting the married state with the celibate state. And we’ll see what he has to say about this.
Alright, in chapter 7, verse 32, immediately after telling the Corinthians in verse 31 that the form of this world was passing away—that the old creation was passing away—Paul launches into his discussion of the difference between the married state and the celibate state. And this is what he says:
I want you to be free from anxieties. The unmarried man is anxious about the affairs of the Lord, how to please the Lord; but the married man is anxious about worldly affairs, how to please his wife, and his interests are divided. And the unmarried woman or girl is anxious about the affairs of the Lord, how to be holy in body and spirit; but the married woman is anxious about worldly affairs, how to please her husband. I say this for your own benefit, not to lay any restraint upon you, but to promote good order and to secure your undivided devotion to the Lord.
Let’s stop there. Alright, so a few things here. I’m going to go back to, once again, the two circles of the old creation and the new creation—of “this world” and “the world to come.” Because that is the immediately preceding verse to the reading for this week...is Paul’s statement that “this world”, the old creation, is passing away.
And one of the reasons I think that’s important is that if you look at the New Testament as a whole, especially the teachings of Jesus, it’s very clear that the idea, the rationale behind consecrated virginity, behind abstinence from sexual relations or living a celibate life as Jesus says in Matthew 19:12— “for the sake of the kingdom”—that the rationale behind it is eschatological. It’s driven by the teaching of Jesus and the early Christians that marriage (the state of marriage) is something that belongs to “this world,” this passing world, and that virginity or consecrated celibacy is something that anticipates the life of “the world to come.” It anticipates the new creation.
The classic example of this—I’m not going to go into it in any detail right now, I’ve covered it elsewhere—is the famous debate between Jesus and the Sadducees about whether there’ll be any marriage in the resurrection. This is in Matthew chapter 22. Also, it’s in Mark chapter 12. And in both of those chapters, the Sadducees basically give Jesus this hypothetical of a woman who had five husbands who died successively. And they ask:
In the resurrection, therefore, to which of the seven will she be wife? For they all had her.
They’re trying to point out the absurdity of the idea of a bodily resurrection by positing a situation in which a woman would have to be married to five men at the same time in the resurrection. And Jesus says:
“You are wrong, because you know neither the scriptures nor the power of God. For in the resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven.
And it’s very important here to notice that first of all, Jesus is talking about men and women there. Because men marry; women are given in marriage. So he’s using both forms of the verb to describe both men and women. So he’s saying there’ll be neither sex—neither male nor female is going to be in a married state in the resurrection.
But it’s fascinating...if you look at Luke chapter 20, which is not the reading for this week. But of course, Luke is a companion of Paul. So there’s lots of fascinating parallels between the letters of Paul and the Gospel of Luke. But it’s really interesting...if you look in Luke 20, verse 34-36, Jesus Himself uses the language of “this world” and “the world to come” or “this age” and “the age to come” when He’s talking about marriage and celibacy—just like Paul. Listen to what He says:
And Jesus said to them, “The sons of this age marry and are given in marriage; but those who are accounted worthy to attain to that age and to the resurrection from the dead neither marry nor are given in marriage, for they cannot die any more, because they are equal to angels and are sons of God, being sons of the resurrection.
Wow, isn’t that fascinating? So when Jesus is talking about marriage and celibacy, He explicitly couches it in the Gospel of Luke chapter 20, as a distinction between the sons of “this age” and sons of “the age to come”—between the old creation and the new creation, between a state in which people die (this world) and then the state in which there will be no more death (namely, the resurrection of the body).
Alright, so if we bring that idea back into Paul’s teaching here about marriage and celibacy in 1 Corinthians chapter 7, we see that the rationale, one of the rationales for celibacy, is that the person who lives the celibate life now is in a sense anticipating the life of the resurrection in this world. The sons of this age marry and are given in marriage, but the sons of the age to come (the children of the new world) don’t marry. But they live the life of the resurrection now
Now Paul takes that, and he kind of draws out of it the practical implications for the difference of the state of marriage and celibate state. And he says:
I want you to be free from anxieties. The unmarried man is anxious about the affairs of the Lord, how to please the Lord; but the married man is anxious about worldly affairs, how to please his wife…
Likewise, an unmarried woman or girl—and the Greek word there is virgin. I don’t know why they didn’t just translate it as virgin in the Revised Standard Version. It’s the word parthenos
. It means “virgin.” So he’s making a distinction here between an unmarried grown woman—probably like a widow, for example—and then an unmarried young woman, i.e. a virgin. So Paul is saying here:
And the unmarried woman or girl is anxious about the affairs of the Lord, how to be holy in body and spirit; but the married woman is anxious about worldly affairs, how to please her husband. I say this for your own benefit, not to lay any restraint upon you, but to promote good order and to secure your undivided devotion to the Lord.
So what is Paul doing here? He’s not laying down a law that all Christians have to be celibate and all Christians have to avoid marriage. That was never the teaching of the Church. However, from the beginning, apostolic Christianity (following Judaism, by the way)—I could go into a long lecture on this, but amongst the Essenes and the Dead Sea Scrolls writers, as well as in the Jews of Egypt...among the Jews of Egypt and Alexandria, there were groups of Jewish men and women who lived celibate lives. So celibacy, kind of monastic lifestyle, was something that was present in Judaism before it was present in Christianity. You can look at that in Josephus’ description of the Essenes or Philo’s On the Contemplative Life
, where he describes a group of people called the Therapeutae that lived in actually Mareotis—Lake Mareotis, Egypt. Anyway, I’m sorry. I’m going off too much.
The point is, celibacy—celibate life—is part of Judaism before it’s part of Christianity. And so John the Baptist is celibate. Jesus is celibate. Paul is celibate. So one of the most fascinating things to me about contemporary discussion of this is that so many Christians who have a problem with celibacy or think celibacy is weird or celibacy is somehow disordered or strange...tend to forget that Jesus was celibate. Paul is celibate. John the Baptist is certainly celibate. I mean, he’s eating bugs for dinner. The guy is a bachelor; I’m sorry.
But there were other Jews who were celibate as well. And the reason is because of the Jewish worldview. There was an anticipation of the new creation, the idea that our bodies weren’t created ultimately just for this world but for the world to come, in which there would be no marriage, there would be no more death. So there’d be no more need for procreation.
So Paul plugs into that, and what he’s trying to get the Corinthians to do is he’s trying to encourage them—both men and women—to embrace the celibate life, because he wants them to be free from anxieties. And he says:
...the married man is anxious about worldly affairs, how to please his wife, and his interests are divided.
And if you’re married and trying to live the Christian life, you’ll know Paul is right. It is difficult to live in the married state, because the married state has so many duties and concerns and anxieties and burdens that are very “this worldly.” They’re very focused on finances, health, education, politics. There are just things...you have to live in the world if you’re going to be a responsible father or responsible mother, responsible husband or responsible wife. It’s part of the married state to be very much immersed in the things of this world. Even though married people are called to live in the world but not of the world, it’s tough to do so...because our interests are divided between the things of the world and the things of Heaven. The same thing with an unmarried woman. He says there:
And the unmarried woman or girl is anxious about the affairs of the Lord, how to be holy in body and spirit; but the married woman is anxious about worldly affairs, how to please her husband.
...and about the worldly affairs that come with domestic life, family life, so on and so forth.
So what Paul is trying to do is encourage the Corinthians—who, by the way, these are ex-pagans. There are groups of Vestal Virgins in certain pagan temples and stuff, but there’s no widespread practice of voluntary, consecrated virginity or celibacy in the pagan world, like there was in Judaism. It was always a minority in Judaism, don’t get me wrong. The majority has always been marriage, the minority consecrated virginity or celibacy.
But it’s almost nonexistent in the pagan world, in part because pagans have all kinds of different ideas about sexuality. And they certainly don’t have the same kind of sexual morals that you find in Judaism, which would restrict all sexuality activity between a husband and a wife within the married covenant in a way that’s open to procreation and to life.
So it’s just a whole different universe. So Paul is trying...it’s interesting to me how fast Paul is, in a sense, trying to run with the Corinthians. Because in chapter 6, he was telling them not to go to brothels. Now he’s telling them to embrace celibacy...or he’s encouraging them, I should say, to see the value of celibacy and consecrated virginity.
So this text really is going to lay the foundation for the practice, the esteem, of consecrated celibacy and virginity and the practice of it in the Christian Church.
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