Reflections on the Readings for Sunday 29 January 2012
Deuteronomy 18:15-20; Psalm 95:1-2, 6-9; 1 Corinthians 7:32-35; Mark 1:21-28
Finding God seems to me a perpetual game of hide and seek, I wonder what it would be like to stand in God’s awesome unmistakable presence. The people of God had that opportunity at Sinai, here called Horeb, but discovered that it was too much for them. They literally begged Moses not to have to hear God’s voice or see the signs of God’s holiness. And so Moses stands in the breach as a mediator of God’s words. I have always thought of a prophet as one who brings God close, but here their role is almost to keep God at a safe distance, so that the ordinary person can get along without having to face God directly.
The danger is that, in not having to face God directly, it was easier for them not to take God seriously. The story of God’s people after Sinai on their journey to the promised land is one of rebellion, as today’s psalm reminds us. But the mood of the psalm is predominantly hopeful – as we worship God and come into God’s presence, we are open to the possibility of hearing God’s voice, and capable of responding.
By the time of Jesus, the role of the prophet had been largely eclipsed by the role of the scribe, the interpreter of the written collections of the inspired words of the prophets. As a biblical scholar myself, I don’t like to denigrate the function of the scribe, but it seems that the people’s experience of their teaching was a watered down kind of teaching that kept God at even greater remove from them. What amazed the people about Jesus was the authority with which he spoke and the way he directly confronted the spiritual powers that bound people. Here is no second-hand knowledge being passed down from generation to generation. The living God who made the mountain quake at Sinai is present in this Galilean carpenter.
I don’t really know what to make of Paul’s praise of the single life. I do sometimes envy the seemingly unencumbered lives of friends and colleagues who are priests and religious. I know that it is a calling for some. But my own much messier and chaotic life with a husband and children is also a calling, and I hope that my commitment to the Lord is lived out within and not despite it. As a ‘scribe’ I understand Paul’s context, why in the circumstances in which he is writing he wants his audience to seriously consider the single life as a conscious choice. I recognise Paul’s prophetic function: as one who has stood in God’s presence, he has wisdom to impart which must be taken seriously. But as an ordinary human being who is in Christ, and who has the Spirit dwelling within me, I too can hear God’s voice. I am not called to simply obey Paul’s words, but to hear God’s own words to me through them. I hear in Paul’s words a challenge to look carefully at my life to discern the distractions that I should let go of. I ask myself where and how I make my life needlessly complicated, and what activities and commitments get in the way of my commitment to God. And I am reminded again of how my family life is part and parcel of how I serve and where I find God.