Deuteronomy 18:15-20, Mark 1:21-28 (4th Sunday of OT, year b)
Perched atop the Oppian Hill in Rome sits San Pietro in Vincoli, or St. Peter in Chains. This Church was originally built in the 5th century to house the relic of the chains that bound St. Peter when he was imprisoned in Jerusalem. These chains are on display in a glass case underneath the main altar. Though ancient and remarkable, this relic is not the most incredible aspect of the Church. Located on the interior wall of the Church is a magnificent marble statue of Moses carved by Michelangelo in the 16th century. The figure of Moses looms large, dominating the Church. He is presented as a mighty and heroic figure.
|Michelangelo's Moses (source)|
Just as his statue dominates the Church of San Pietro in Vincoli, Moses is arguably the most important and influential character in the Old Testament and the Jewish religion. This is because of the central role he played in the defining event in the history of Israel before the coming of Christ: the Exodus. We are all familiar with the drama of Exodus. If we haven’t read the biblical account, at least we have seen a movie based on the story such as the older Ten Commandments or the newer Exodus: Gods and Kings starring Charlton Heston and Christian Bale, respectively, as Moses. For generations the Hebrew people were enslaved in Egypt. It is difficult for us to understand the extend of their suffering, the sense of hopelessness, anger and sadness they must have experienced. After calling on God for so long, many had despaired that He would send help. At last, Moses came to save the people. With great deeds of power, he liberated the Hebrew people from Egyptian slavery and led them to the Promised Land. Because of the incredible role Moses played in the Exodus of the Hebrews from slavery, he was revered above all other leaders.
Eventually the Jewish people realized that the liberation God worked through Moses was not complete. The Book of Deuteronomy was written after the Jewish people had lived in the Promised Land for some time. They noticed that although they were no longer physical slaves in Egypt, they still were bound under a moral slavery. In the land of Israel, the Jewish people warred among themselves. They were slaves to sin, hatred and discord. They prayed that the Lord would again send a prophet like Moses. They desired a new, final Exodus to free them from this more insidious form of slavery and lead them to an ultimate Promised Land.
In the Gospels, Jesus is consistently presented as the new Moses. Jesus’ mission was to free us from the slavery of sin and death. In the story of the man possessed by an unclean spirit (Mk 1:21-28), Jesus confronts the ultimate type of slavery. Such an individual was truly a slave, as he was robbed of his freedom and the ability to determine his own life. This seemingly hopeless situation is not much more extreme than the bondage that sin can hold each of us under. Jesus came to bring about a new Exodus, freeing us from this slavery and leading us into the true Promised Land, the Kingdom of Heaven which begins here and now and lasts forever. Like Moses, Jesus brings about this liberation with great deeds and power. Jesus worked miracles, cast out demons and taught with authority. God ultimately freed Israel from slavery in Egypt at the Passover, that event when the first born of the Egyptians were killed and the Hebrews were spared because they had marked their doors by blood of a lamb. Jesus ultimately frees us from the slavery of sin and death through His Passion, death and Resurrection. We call these events the Paschal mystery in order to make the link to the Egyptian Passover explicit (“Pasqual” comes from the word “passover”). Now it is the blood of Jesus and not a lamb that saves us. Christ is the new Moses who has brought about our true Exodus.
Jesus continues to free us from slavery. We sometimes think that Jesus’ freeing act is only something that He did once in the past, distant from our personal experience. This is a mistake! Jesus desires to liberate us from slavery here and now. One way we experience slavery today is in addictions. With our constant connection to the internet via computer, smartphone and tablet, one kind of addiction has become widespread today: pornography addiction. New technology has made pornography easily available, free and anonymous to use. 70% of people have come across pornography accidentally and the average age of first exposure is 11. Pornography functions like a drug, creating a real addiction. All this has lead to the fact that many, both men and women, struggle with addiction to pornography. 50% of Christian men and 20% of Christian women acknowledge they are addicted to pornography. Just about everyone, religious or secular, admits it is a problem. A couple months ago the secular men’s magazine magazine GQ published an article called 10 Reasons Why You Should Quit Watching Porn. The article explains the negative effects of pornography. It destroys intimacy in a marriage. For those not married, it damages their ability to ever have an intimate relationship with someone. Many want to stop but cannot. The feeling of being enslaved to this addiction can make people extremely discouraged and isolated. It is all too easy to give into hopelessness, thinking there is no way forward.
The message of today’s Gospel brings light into this darkness: have hope because Jesus came to free you from this slavery! There is help available (here is a good place to start). Patiently work to overcome this addiction knowing that Jesus’ love, mercy and strength accompanies you every step of the way. Nearly 2000 years ago when St. Peter was imprisoned, wearing the chains now on display in San Pietro in Vincoli, he must have felt that he might never be free of them. Jesus, however, intervened in his life and broke these bonds. We need to trust that in our lives too Jesus will intervene in the same way, freeing us from all that keeps us enslaved.