Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time
January 28, 2018
Homily by Fr. John De Celles
St. Raymond of Peñafort Catholic Church
Sometimes people like to pit what they call “the God of the Old Testament”
against “the God of the New Testament”
—as if there was a difference, or that somehow God changes,
gets kinder or mellows with age.
Of course, this is nonsense.
If we read carefully the pages of both the Old Testament and the New Testament,
we can see very clearly how God is consistent in both,
and how He fulfills his word and promises of the Old Testament
as He speaks to us in the New Testament,
and how the glory of Christ is foreshadowed in the Old Testament
for those who have eyes to see and ears to hear.
Today’s first reading and Gospel are prime examples of this.
In the first reading from the book of Deuteronomy
Moses tells the people that one day God will send Israel
“a prophet like me.”
Now, what you have to understand is
that there had never been “a prophet like” Moses before
—and never would be again in all of Jewish history.
From the time of Abraham around the year 1700 BC
to the time of Moses around 1300 BC,
there was really no other prophet at all.
But then after 400 years of waiting
for the fulfillment of the promises made to Abraham
as they languished in slavery in Egypt,
suddenly God sent them Moses,
the great prophet who had actually seen and spoken to God
on Mount Horeb.
And with great signs and wonders
—the 10 plagues, the parting of the Red Sea
–he shows that he is not only God’s messenger,
but that he is the instrument of God’s incomparable power!
Not only does Moses tell Pharaoh, “let them my people free,”
he himself frees them, with the power of God.
And then he takes them to Mount Horeb, also called Mt. Sinai,
where he goes up and receives the law from God Himself,
bringing it back to the people who accept it and renew the Covenant.
This time not with vague promises like those God made to Abraham,
but now with very specific promises and teachings: “the law.”
And God kept His promises,
and right at the center of everything Israel did for over 1200 years
was the law of Moses.
Of course, they didn’t always keep the law as they should.
So the Lord sent prophets like Elijah and Isaiah,
adding nothing really new,
but shedding light on Moses teaching,
—and warning the people when they strayed from it.
But, again, no other prophet ever compared to Moses.
Nowhere is this more evident in one important fact:
no one ever saw God as Moses had seen him on Mount Horeb
and even in some mysterious way in the Holy of Holies.
As the Book of Exodus tells us:
“the LORD used to speak to Moses face to face,
as a man speaks to his friend.”
And it goes on to tell us that when Moses would encounter God like this,
“the skin of his face shone because he had been talking with God.
And when …the people of Israel saw Moses, behold,
… they were afraid to come near him.”
They were frightened by Moses, because he had seen God.
But, they were also frightened because, in a very real way,
they had also seen God, if from a distance;
as Scripture tells us:
“when all the people perceived the thundering and the lightnings
…the people were afraid …
and they stood afar off, and said to Moses,
“You speak to us, and we will hear;
but let not God speak to us, lest we die.””
The sight and sound of God in the thunder and lightning was
so magnificent that it scared the heck out of the people.
So when we read today how when Moses promises
that someday a prophet like him will come
he also promises that that prophet
will also be the intermediary between God and the people,
so they won’t have to see and be frightened by
the magnificence and holiness of God face to face:
As Moses says:
“This is exactly what you requested of the LORD…at Horeb.”
That’s the Old Testament.
Now see how it’s fulfilled in the New Testament, in today’s Gospel.
St. Mark tells us that Jesus came to Capernaum and went to the Synagogue
—reminding us that, like Moses before him, Jesus was a Jew,
coming to His “own kin,” just as Moses prophesied.
And then He teaches the assembly, just as Moses did.
And then it tells us:
“The people were astonished at his teaching,
for he taught them as one having authority
and not as the scribes.”
You see, the scribes and rabbis would teach
by strictly explaining what Moses had taught,
clarified by what the other lesser prophets had said.
They never proposed anything new on their own authority,
but only repeat and explained
what was handed down with Moses’ authority.
But then Jesus comes along and doesn’t contradict Moses,
but goes beyond him.
He doesn’t say “this is what Moses meant when he spoke to you,”
but rather “this is what God meant when he spoke to Moses.”
St. Matthew’s Gospel is full of examples of Jesus saying things like:
“You have heard it said, thou shall not kill…
…but I say to you… whoever says, ‘You fool!’
shall be liable to the hell of fire.”
Or in another place:
“Moses allowed you to divorce …,
but …I say to you: whoever divorces his wife…and marries another,
Back to today’s Gospel,
after this kind of new preaching, like Moses who parted the Red Sea,
Jesus shows the power of God,
driving a demon from a man right there in the synagogue.
And taking all this in, Scripture tells us:
“All were amazed and asked one another, “What is this?
A new teaching with authority.”
Elsewhere Mark records a similar event, and says:
“they were all amazed…, saying,
“We never saw anything like this!”
So the prophesy of Moses is fulfilled in Christ.
But there is something more here.
As I explained before, the people in Moses’ time were afraid to see God.
To many today this might seem strange.
To some, this is because they try to recreate God in their own image,
to make him less awesome, less perfect, less radically different than us,
so that their own sins don’t look so back
when compared to their dumbed down image of God’s perfection.
But that’s not the way it was for Moses and his people:
they saw God as radically different—HOLY—
and that they were radically unholy compared to him.
To others today, though, there is a more innocent explanation
of not being afraid of seeing God.
That’s because we have already seen God
—and not only survived, but flourished.
This is the gem right in the heart of these 2 passages of Scripture.
Because while Jesus was in fact a prophet “like” Moses
by revealing radically new things,
and changing the people and their covenant with God forever,
He was also like Moses in an even more important way:
like Moses he saw God face to face.
But unlike Moses he saw him not only on the Mountain or the Holy of Holies,
but all the time–constantly!
And not simply as Moses did, “as a man speaks to his friend”
but now as a Son speaks to His Father,
and even… as a man speaks to himself.
Because Jesus is not merely a human prophet like Moses,
but he is also the Son of God, and God the Son himself.
And also unlike with Moses,
with Jesus the people have no need to fear seeing God,
because in Jesus God comes to His people in a way that says
not, “behold my magnificence and holiness,”
but now “I am meek and humble of heart,”
“do not be afraid,”
and “peace be with you.”
He says, yes, I am glorious and all powerful,
but see that glory and power through the prism of my deep love for you.
Yes, you are sinners,
but I will pour my love out on you,
washing away your sins,
and joining you to myself,
so that you can be not simply God’s unworthy people,
but God’s own holy sons and daughters.
A few years ago, Pope Benedict explained this in a most beautiful way
in a Christmas homily.
He said: “from the time of Adam
[God] saw that his grandeur provoked resistance in man….
Therefore God chose a new way.
He became a child… dependent and weak, in need of our love.
Now – this God …says to us
– you can no longer fear me, you can only love me.”
This began in His birth, but continued all through his life.
Do not be afraid, I come to heal you and drive the devil out of your life,
and to show you the way, the truth and the life of happiness.
Do not be afraid, I hang upon the cross, vulnerable, beaten and mocked,
so that my blood might wash your sins away.
Peace be with you, I have risen and conquered sin and death,
so that you may have eternal life.
Peace be with you, for behold, I am with you always, even until the end of time.
God hasn’t changed, from the Old Testament to the New,
but in Christ He shows us first His humility and love,
and in this we see the true depths of His glory.
And so there is no reason to be afraid, only to love.
The Jews in Capernaum saw him this way 2000 years ago,
and we who love Him continue to see Him this way today.
We see and hear Him in the constant teaching and life
of His body on earth the Church.
And we hear Him every time His word is read in scripture.
And, most sublimely, we see Him every time we come to Mass,
and we touch Him every time we receive Him in holy Communion.
Again, He comes not in a fiery and thundering mountain top,
but in the least threatening way possible:
under the appearance of simple bread and wine.
And He says: “do not be afraid” …. “love me” “as I have loved you”…
“peace be with you.”
Today the Old Testament and New come together,
as the prophesy of Moses is fulfilled:
the great prophet who not only teaches us about God
but brings us face to face with Him in His very being,
has spoken to us in His sacred word.
Continuing with this holy Mass let us open our eyes of faith
to recognize Him now as He comes to us in the Holy Eucharist.
Let us approach Him, not afraid that He will strike us down with lighting,
but only afraid that our sins may offend His Sacred Heart.
Let us remember that He is the Almighty God of Mt. Sinai,
and we are lowly sinners.
But let us rejoice and praise Him
because He gives us a new teaching with authority,
and comes to us in the form of bread, saying:
“do not be afraid,” “peace be with you.”