Fourth Sunday after the Epiphany Deuteronomy 18:15-20, Psalm 111, 1 Corinthians 8:1-13, Mark 1:21-28
One of the comforting things about the Bible is that it tells us a story about ourselves, a story we can actually believe. There’s this garden. Adam and Eve hide from God.
God of course was not satisfied that human beings should be cast out of Eden forever, but since he made them with his own hands and life they are meant to know and be loved by God. This purpose of being known in the world is accomplished through God’s people Israel, who God saves from slavery in Egypt.
What we know as the Ten Commandments come from this time where God led his people far away from Egypt and spoke with them face-to-face. And when confronted with the glory of God in their midst, the people hide. They ask God to only speak through Moses.
This is what Deuteronomy 18, our OT passage is referring to. God has saved these people, demonstrated his love to them and that he will fight for them, but they cannot endure to see God’s face. It speaks of the great chasm between our existence, and God’s existence. Between our limited vision, and God’s magnificent beauty. Is God offended by Israel’s rejection in this moment? No. God gives them what they want. He doesn’t try to argue with them that they will not die, rather he promises them that he will not be silent and will not be far from them, even if they cannot bear his awesome presence. He will send prophets.
I sympathise with Israel on this one. The difference of God’s being and ours.
God understands our needs, however foolish or immature. He is kind.
In this lesson from Deuteronomy, God makes a kind of promise that he will not be silent, but he will speak to us in a language we can understand. The language of a human being sent on his behalf. We might hide ourselves from God’s glory, but from God’s glory will come in every generation a prophets who will speak God’s word to us.
This promise, of both grace which understands our weakness, and God’s intention to pursue a relationship with us, is most fully expressed in Jesus Christ the Son of God. In the former days there was a word given to a human prophet, but God intends a greater intimacy and thus the Word he declares becomes a living person. The Prophet and the Prophecy are united in one flesh.
So Jesus begins his preaching ministry in Capernaum and the people are amazed at the authority with which he speaks. Our interpretation is clear from verse 21 and 22…
But if God is so eager to be known by his people, so passionate to redeem his people by the knowledge of him, why does he silence the only one in this passage who knows who Jesus is?
The knowledge of God in Christ is not a fact to be announced, but a revelation to be received by those who become disciples. The kind of knowledge Jesus is concerned about is the kind of intimacy which comes not from a sermon in a holy place, but by walking, sleeping, eating together. He came as a human being so that he could go to all the places where we have hidden ourselves from his voice. We might be afraid of the burning mountain, but we will readily let ourselves be held in the arms of someone who loves us. The Demon attempts to goad Jesus into acting like the burning bush, to make the people who he has come to save cower and hide.
His actions in Capernaum result in him becoming famous, but this is only the beginning of his disclosure of himself. The people are simply impressed that they have seen a powerful prophet, and Jesus does not correct them.
The same gentleness God shows to the people by listening to their plea that he should not speak to them face-to-face is echoed in Jesus. He does not announce his own identity, rather he commits to be known by his Disciples, who by knowing him and living with him through what was to come would learn not a series of facts about God, but become intimately known by God himself.
See, knowing God means loving him. It is those who love God who are loved by him. The demons do not love God, and so their knowledge of who Jesus is simply condemns them.
This strange new understanding of love gives Saint Paul the framework to address a controversy for the Corinthians.
If God can be gentle with my failure to be all that I am supposed to be, then I can have hope that as in his good time he spoke through the prophets, lived and died as a human to reveal God’s nature, and sanctified his people until the idols were all destroyed, I will not be destroyed by the things I am ashamed of.