New and Old
(Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time: Deuteronomy 18:15-20; 1 Corinthians 7:32-35; Mark 1:21-28)
Jesus was, to say the least, an interesting personality, a phenomenon. People were amazed at his power and the authority with which he presented a new teaching.
In our second reading, we find a specific new teaching, a novel idea put forward by St. Paul. He thought that it was better not to marry, so as to devote oneself more to pleasing God than to pleasing a wife or husband.
That was nearly 2000 years ago. While most of St. Paul’s writings are normative for Christian faith, his idea about marriage never really caught on. The teachings of Jesus have, of course, been around for a very long time. In a sense, the Good News isn’t news any more.
When Mary told Maximin and Mélanie, “I am here to tell you great news,” she really did not have anything new to say, but what she had to say was vitally important, nonetheless. Her message echoes the Good News, as well as the Old Testament. But she did not just repeat Bible teachings; she had to get us to hear them in a new way. That is the prophetic approach.
If you read Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel, you will find very similar messages, but the language and the personality of each individual prophet is different. How true this is of the Beautiful Lady as well!
We may reasonably expect some similarity between her words and the Lamentations of Jeremiah, and indeed the tragic image of dying children recurs there quite often. In Jeremiah 14:17 we read, “Let my eyes stream with tears, day and night, without rest.” This evokes for us not only Mary’s weeping, but also her praying for us without ceasing.
Still, certain dimensions of the Apparition are unique: the unusual elements of Mary’s costume, her choice of witnesses. The newness of her message lies in the direct application to current events. Critics say that potatoes are not a suitable topic for the Blessed Virgin to address. True enough in the abstract, perhaps, but potatoes and wheat represented life to her people, and so constituted an effective way to get their attention.
The ’new teaching’ of Jesus is ancient, but not old, never passé. La Salette reminds us of the importance of finding new, more effective ways to announce it.