Breaking Open the Word
4th Sunday of Ordinary Time
January 28, 2024
The first reading is from the book of Deuteronomy. The word deuteronomy comes from the Greek words second and law. This book presents many of the laws that are in Exodus and Leviticus, but there are changes that indicate Deuteronomy was written for people who were trying to follow God’s law during a different era. At this point in the Bible, God’s people are about to enter the land God promised their ancestors after he freed them from Egypt and made a covenant with them at Sinai. Horeb is another word for Sinai. God’s presence at Horeb was at times so dramatic that the Israelites asked Moses to act as a mediator so that they could keep their distance. God gave his people Moses and promised to continue calling forth prophets. True prophets like Moses aren’t chosen by themselves or others but by God.
Today’s Gospel continues our reading from Mark and describes what some believe was likely to have been a typical day in Jesus’ ministry. Jesus and the disciples that chose to follow him in last week’s Gospel arrive at Capernaum, a small village on the Sea of Galilee. Jesus teaches in the synagogue on the Sabbath. Mark reports that the people respond to Jesus’ teaching with astonishment, noting Jesus’ authority and contrasting it with the scribes. Early in Mark’s Gospel we already find evidence of the tension that will manifest itself fully in Jerusalem.
The most important question Mark’s Gospel asks is, “Who is Jesus”? Jesus speaks with authority, and people were stunned with the knowledge of the scriptures Jesus displayed. Beyond this, his very presence changes situations. When he drives out the evil spirit, the crowd doesn’t understand when the demon calls him by name, “the holy one to God.” They discuss the power over evil and go out to spread the news throughout all of Galilee, but they keep asking, “Who is he? For them and for us, it’s more important to let the holy presence and authority of Jesus in to the situations of our lives and of our world than to look for verbal answers and definitions of who Jesus is.
Driving out demons
John the Baptist preached that someone mightier than him was coming. When this mighty one arrives, his first public action is to expel evil from a synagogue. Synagogue literally means “gather together” and refers to places of worship and religious instruction as well as to those who gather.
After Jesus’ preaching, a man possessed with an unclean spirit calls out to Jesus. As we see in this example and throughout Mark’s Gospel, the spirits and demons seem to know Jesus and are often fearful of him. In fact, they seem to understand Jesus’ identity better than his disciples. As we will read again and again in Mark’s Gospel, Jesus orders the spirit to be quiet and drives the unclean spirit out of the man. Jesus’ ability to heal those possessed by demons is an indication of his power over evil.
Theme in our Life Today
Unclean spirits or demons represent the evil that opposes God. By casting the demon out, Jesus shows that God’s kingdom really is arriving through him. Jesus is the stronger one who vanquishes evil and brings people into God’s kingdom. The exorcism also validates his teaching authority.
Possession by unclean spirits may have been a way to describe what we might call mental illness today. It may have even been a way of describing certain kinds of physical conditions. There is evidence that there were many kinds of exorcists and healers in first-century Palestine. Jesus appears to be like these healers, but he heals with unique authority and connects his healing activities with the words of his preaching.
The people who heard Jesus teach and saw him heal in today’s Gospel were said to have been astonished and amazed by the authority of his teaching. So compelling were Jesus’ words and actions that the news about him could not be contained; it spread quickly throughout all of Galilee.
Two thousand years later, the news about Jesus continues to spread. We are called to participate in sharing the Good News of Jesus with others in our words and in our deeds.
Prepare for Sunday
To Prepare for this Sunday’s Liturgy of the Word, consider the following:
1. When has someone’s presence brought change in your life? Was it negative or positive?
2. Think of an experience when God might be working to overcome an evil situation.
3. Name an action you can take this week to give God greater influence in your life?
God of power,
who promised us the Holy Spirit through Jesus your Son,
we pray for ourselves and all who present themselves before you.
Protect us from the spirit of evil and guard us against error and sin
so that we may become the temple of your Holy Spirit.
Confirm what we profess in faith so that our words may not be empty
but full of the grace and power by which your Son has freed the world.
We ask this through Christ our Lord. Amen.