Sunday Sermon for January 29, 2012, the Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B

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

In the first reading today Moses reminds the Israelites that at Mount Sinai they had specifically asked that they not hear the Lord’s voice again. Sadly, things do not seem to have changed a whole lot over the 3500 years that have intervened. Today, even though people have outright rejected God and His Word, they are quick to say that if God did something extraordinary they would believe. Moses added to the reminder that the people also asked not to see the great fire of God again, lest they die.

These people heard the voice of God and they saw and heard great signs, but that did not change them. In fact, within forty days they were worshipping a golden calf. It would be no different if something extraordinary happened today. People would be wowed, but within a few weeks it would be back to life as normal. Of course, today we have all kinds of electronic gadgets to distract us and pull us away from reality, so it may be only a week or two before the effects of God’s intervention will have worn off.

Moses tells the people that God will raise up for them a Prophet like himself. They are to listen to that Prophet because he will speak what God tells him. This is why several times in the Gospels we hear people questioning whether Jesus or St. John the Baptist is the Prophet. What is interesting is that Jesus is demonstrated to be that Prophet foretold by Moses, but the people refuse to listen anyway.

I am reminded of the passage where Jesus says to the people that they are like children in the square calling to their playmates saying that we sang you a dirge but you did not wail, we piped you a tune but you did not dance. In its context this referred to St. John the Baptist and Jesus, but we can also apply it to the Father and to the Son. The people at Sinai did not want to hear God’s voice because it terrified them. The people of our Lord’s time did not want to hear God’s voice because it was too gentle. It seems, from a human perspective, that whatever God does is wrong.

In the Gospel we see that at the beginning of our Lord’s public ministry the people were amazed at our Lord’s teaching and recognized His authority as He orders demons and they obey. It does not take long and they disregard Him, unless, of course, they want a miracle of some sort worked for them. The people of Nazareth rejected Him because they knew Him, the people of the three towns where He worked the majority of His miracles were condemned for not repenting and changing their lives.

What do you think He would say to us today? We have heard His Word week after week for years, we all own Bibles, we receive the Sacraments, we have the fullness of truth handed to us, and still we are more interested in worldly things than we are in the Lord. Perhaps we have not stated that we do not want to hear the voice of the Lord; instead, we have ignored Him. We will say that we believe, but rarely do we really act on this faith in our daily lives.

In the second reading St. Paul says that he wants things to be for our benefit, for the sake of propriety and adherence to the Lord without distraction. How many of us are really interested in this? How many of us would actually say that adherence to the Lord is more important to me than adherence to the things of the world? St. Paul was interested in our benefit and made clear that what is of the greatest benefit is adherence to Christ.

We know that all things are possible for God, so we do not need Him to come down and show His power by working extraordinary signs. We do not need to hear His voice to know His authority or His gentleness. We just need to make some changes in our lives so that what is truly for our benefit is what we will pursue. Holiness is thought to be craziness by those who seek the ways of the world. But the world is passing away and holiness is what will remain for eternity.

The words and the works of the Lord have been handed down to us over the centuries. The truth is within the reach of all of us. We need to learn from the mistakes of the past and do the opposite. We need to pray to hear the voice of the Lord spoken through the Scriptures and through the Church and to recognize Him in His many ways of working among us.

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