Lesson: Deuteronomy 18:15-20
15 Moses said: The LORD your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among your own people; you shall heed such a prophet. 16 This is what you requested of the LORD your God at Horeb on the day of the assembly when you said: “If I hear the voice of the LORD my God any more or ever again see this great fire, I will die.” 17 Then the LORD replied to me: “They are right in what they have said. 18 I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their own people; I will put my words in the mouth of the prophet, who shall speak to them everything that I command. 19 Anyone who does not heed the words that the prophet shall speak in my name, I myself will hold accountable. 20 But any prophet who speaks in the name of other gods, or who presumes to speak in my name a word that I have not commanded the prophet to speak—that prophet shall die.”
Deuteronomy is the fifth (and last) book of the Torah and is presented as Moses’ final speech to the Israelites just before they entered the Promised Land. “Deuteronomy” comes from Greek words that mean “Second Law” and is structured as a “restatement” of the laws found in the books of Exodus, Leviticus, and Numbers. Parts of it were revised as late as 450 BCE, but the bulk of the book is generally dated to the reign of King Josiah of Judea (640-609 BCE).
In today’s reading, Moses tells the Israelites that YHWH will raise up a prophet “like me” [Moses] as requested by the people at Horeb (the Deuteronomists’ name for Mount Sinai). Moses “recounts” that YHWH told him that the prophet would be from “their own people, YHWH would put words in the prophet’s mouth, and the prophet would speak in YHWH’s name (v.18). The appointment by YHWH will make the prophet independent of all institutions and able to challenge them. The Deuteronomists saw Moses as the paradigmatic prophet.
These verses in Deuteronomy formed the basis for the vision that the Messiah would be a prophet and the “New Moses.” This vision was one among many different visions of the Messiah in circulation in the First Century, including the “New David,” the suffering servant, the Paschal Lamb, the Son of Man, and the New High Priest.
The Gospel According to Matthew specifically presented Jesus of Nazareth as the New Moses. This Gospel contains stories about Jesus that are not in any other Gospels and are direct parallels to stories about Moses in the Hebrew Bible. For example, by unusual means, Moses and Jesus avoided death at the hands of rulers (Pharaoh and Herod) who tried to kill all the male infants. Moses and Jesus both left Egypt for the Promised Land under God’s protection. Moses went up on the mountain (Sinai or Horeb) to obtain the Law, and Jesus gave the Sermon on the Mount to fulfill the Law.
Epistle: 1 Corinthians 8:1-13
1 Now concerning food sacrificed to idols: we know that “all of us possess knowledge.” Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up. 2 Anyone who claims to know something does not yet have the necessary knowledge; 3 but anyone who loves God is known by him.
4 Hence, as to the eating of food offered to idols, we know that “no idol in the world really exists,” and that “there is no God but one.” 5 Indeed, even though there may be so-called gods in heaven or on earth—as in fact there are many gods and many lords— 6 yet for us there is one God, the Father, from whom are all things and for whom we exist, and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things and through whom we exist.
7 It is not everyone, however, who has this knowledge. Since some have become so accustomed to idols until now, they still think of the food they eat as food offered to an idol; and their conscience, being weak, is defiled. 8 “Food will not bring us close to God.” We are no worse off if we do not eat, and no better off if we do. 9 But take care that this liberty of yours does not somehow become a stumbling block to the weak. 10 For if others see you, who possess knowledge, eating in the temple of an idol, might they not, since their conscience is weak, be encouraged to the point of eating food sacrificed to idols? 11 So by your knowledge those weak believers for whom Christ died are destroyed. 12 But when you thus sin against members of your family, and wound their conscience when it is weak, you sin against Christ. 13 Therefore, if food is a cause of their falling, I will never eat meat, so that I may not cause one of them to fall.
Corinth, a large port city in Greece, was among the early Jesus Follower communities that Paul founded. Its culture was diverse and Hellenistic, and Corinthians emphasized reason and secular wisdom. In addition to Paul, other Jesus Followers also taught in Corinth, sometimes in ways inconsistent with Paul’s understandings of what it means to be a Jesus Follower. Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians was written in the 50’s (CE) (likely while Paul was in Ephesus) and presented his views on several issues.
In today’s reading, it is difficult to know exactly when Paul is quoting Hellenistic/Corinthian “knowledge” and whether he is quoting it approvingly or not. (Quotation marks were unknown in the First Century. The early predecessors to quotation marks were not used until the 3rd or 4th Century CE. Quotation marks as we know them were developed in the 17th Century.)
In Corinth, sacrificing meat to idols was a normal part of the social fabric. Paul walked a fine line: he did not forbid Corinthians from eating this meat, but he cautioned Jesus Followers that if they ate meat sacrificed to idols (particularly if they thought they had “knowledge” or religious wisdom), this might harm those who did not fully understand that “no idol in the world really exists” (v.4) and those for whom eating meat sacrificed to idols was a “stumbling block” (v.9). Paul admonished that wounding the conscience of one who is weak in this matter would be a sin against the Christ (v.12).
Gospel: Mark 1:21-28
21 Jesus and his disciples went to Capernaum; and when the sabbath came, he entered the synagogue and taught. 22 They were astounded at his teaching, for he taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes. 23 Just then there was in their synagogue a man with an unclean spirit, 24 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.” 25 But Jesus rebuked him, saying, “Be silent, and come out of him!” 26 And the unclean spirit, convulsing him and crying with a loud voice, came out of him. 27 They were all amazed, and they kept on asking one another, “What is this? A new teaching—with authority! He commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey him.” 28 At once his fame began to spread throughout the surrounding region of Galilee.
The Gospel According to Mark was the first Gospel that was written and is generally dated to the time around the Destruction of the Temple in 70 CE. Mark’s Gospel is the shortest gospel and forms the core for the Gospels According to Matthew and Luke (both of which were written around 85 CE). Over 50% of the material in those two Gospels is based on Mark. Because these three Gospels follow similar chronologies of Jesus’ life and death, they are called “Synoptic Gospels” for the Greek words meaning “Same Look/View.”
In the first part of the First Century (before the Destruction of the Temple in 70 CE), synagogues were just coming into existence as local Jewish town meetings or civic associations, but they were also beginning to be centers of study and worship. Because Mark noted that the people gathered on the sabbath (v.21), Mark assumed the synagogue had a worship function also.
Capernaum is a town on the northern tip of the Sea of Galilee and appears to have been the center of Jesus’ ministry in the Galilee. Even today, there are remains of a Second Century synagogue there as well as the traditional site of Peter’s home.
In Mark’s Gospel, the attribution of “authority” (exousia in Greek) and “power” (dunamis) are common notions. In attributing “authority” to Jesus, the Gospel writer noted that Jesus did not generally rely on the prior thinking of others to express his understandings of the inbreaking of the kingdom of God. The “scribes” (v.22) to whom Jesus was compared were the literate elite scholars-lawyers who represented and advised the Jerusalem priestly rulers, the Sadducees.
The translation that Jesus told the unclean spirit to “be silent” (v.25), the Greek words are literally “be muzzled” — a phrase that appears other times when Jesus confronts unclean spirits in this gospel.