Jesus, the ‘real deal,’ calls us to live a life of big love
By: By Tim Irwin
Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time/Feb. 1
Deuteronomy 18:15-20; Psalm 95:1-2,6-7,7-9; 1 Corinthians 7:32-35; Mark 1:21-28
Funnyman Will Ferrell portraying anchorman Ron Burgundy has created a pop culture sensation with the line, “I don’t know how to put this, but I’m kind of a big deal.” It shows up on posters, t-shirts, and coffee cups. The readings for the Fourth Sunday of Ordinary Time proclaim someone who is not just a big deal, but also the real deal.
The first reading from the Book of Deuteronomy is an excerpt from a discourse of Moses as he offers guidance to the Children of Israel. After discussing pagan worship, judges, kings, and priests, Moses turns to prophets and speaking on behalf of God says, “I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their kin, and will put my words into his mouth; he shall tell them all that I command him. Whoever will not listen to my words which he speaks in my name, I myself will make him answer for it.” In other words, this prophet is the real deal and our happiness depends on accepting the conversion to which he calls us.
In the second reading, Paul answers questions posed by the Corinthians concerning marriage and virginity. Because Paul expects the second coming of Christ soon, he advises the Corinthians to stay in whatever state of life, married or single, they presently find themselves. “I should like you to be free of anxieties,” says St. Paul. “I am telling you this for your own benefit, not to impose a restraint upon you, but for the sake of propriety and adherence to the Lord without distraction.”
Our focus should be on Christ, rather than those things that generate anxiety. Because, I might add, Jesus is the real deal.
IT’S NOT ABOUT EGO
In the Gospel passage from Mark, the Jews attending synagogue in Capernaum respond in astonishment to the teachings of Jesus. We don’t know what Jesus said on that occasion, but clearly the attendees had no idea why this man spoke with authority.
The less corporeal listeners did know: “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!” Jesus rebuked the unclean spirit and said, “Quiet! Come out of him!” This further wowed the crowd, “What is this? A new teaching with authority. He commands even the unclean spirits and they obey him.” Mark then reports that Jesus’ fame spread everywhere throughout the whole region of Galilee. He was suddenly, reluctantly a big deal.
Jesus never says, “I don’t know how to put this, but I’m kind of a big deal.” Perhaps because he is the real deal. Jesus didn’t seem to want the crowd to see him as a big deal; his focus is on his Father. He silences the unclean spirit not wishing his identity revealed just yet. Other unclean spirits make similar statements in Mark, and the centurion, watching how Jesus dies on the cross, says, “Truly, this man is the Son of God.” What it means to be the real deal is finally made clear.
Being a big deal seems to be about making self-aggrandizing claims in an effort to fill oneself up with things of this life; those causes of anxiety from which Paul wishes to spare us. Being the real deal is about doing self-emptying acts as Jesus did. It’s not about big ego; it’s about big love.
Like the Corinthians, we have our questions, our concerns, our anxieties, but we know Jesus, the prophet that Moses promised. When we receive Him in Holy Communion this week let us be mindful that this is the real deal and we are called to a life of big love.
TIM IRWIN teaches at Peoria Notre Dame High School, where he chairs the Theology Department. He is a member of St. Mark Parish in Peoria.