Father Donald Senior, CP

Jan. 31: Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Wednesday, January 20, 2021

A new teaching with authority

Dt 18:15-20; Ps 95:1-2, 6-7, 7-9; 1 Cor 7:32-35; Mk 1:21-28

This Sunday’s Gospel reading is Mark’s description of the first action of Jesus’ public ministry. It is noteworthy that each evangelist’s portrayal of Jesus’ mission begins with a different scene, reflective of the accents they give to Jesus in the body of their Gospels.

Matthew, for example, begins with Jesus preaching the Sermon on the Mount, a powerful summary of his teaching. Luke depicts Jesus in his hometown synagogue of Nazareth, boldly proclaiming the prophetic text of Isaiah 61 as the prelude to his own ministry of justice. In John, Jesus, prompted by his mother, makes the wine flow at the wedding feast of Cana.

Mark begins his dramatic portrayal of Jesus’ mission in the synagogue of Capernaum, the town on the shores of the Sea of Galilee that he would make his base.

While teaching in the synagogue on a Sabbath, Jesus is confronted by a man “with an unclean spirit.” “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,” the man says. In sharp, powerful words, Jesus rebukes the evil spirit within the man and commands that it cease tormenting the man. Then, with a convulsion and a loud cry, the spirit is driven out.

In many ways, this is a summary of Jesus’ entire mission in Mark’s Gospel. From the moment of Jesus’ baptism at the Jordan river, we learn that he is the beloved Son of God, filled with God’s own Spirit. Driven by that powerful Spirit, Jesus immediately went deeper into the desert and there confronted and triumphed over the very personification of evil.

In these opening scenes of his Gospel, Mark communicates to us both the profound identity of Jesus and that the God-given purpose of his mission is to liberate humans from the grip of evil that threatens to destroy their lives.

Mark’s account, from this moment in the synagogue of Capernaum and throughout the region of Galilee, will be an unending stream of healings and exorcisms, breaking the bonds of evil and making humans whole and reconciled.

We need to understand carefully the Gospel’s link between various forms of human suffering and the attribution of such suffering to the assault of evil. There is absolutely no suggestion that because someone is ill or suffering that they are morally responsible and in cahoots with Satan. 

No, the view of the ancient world in these matters is different, especially from our modern empirical point of view. They understood that at the deepest level of reality, human plight was not the intent of God but was caused by the power of death and evil that first entered the world through human failure and became part of the human legacy. 

The true intent of God was that humans enjoy the fullness of abundant life. At the first moment of creation portrayed in Genesis, God declares all created reality, especially human life, as “good,” “very good.”

This fundamental view of reality explains the mission of Jesus and, by extension, our own Christian mission. Jesus came to break the radical power of evil and restore human life to its full vitality and dignity. 

We see that in the reaction of the crowds in the synagogue of Capernaum who are amazed Jesus’ life-giving power. “A new teaching with authority. He commands even the unclean spirits and they obey him,” they said to one another.

In the course of Mark’s Gospel, Jesus will give his own disciples the same power: “He sent them forth to proclaim the kingdom of God and to drive out demons.”

These days we seem surrounded by threats to human life: the still increasing threat of the pandemic; the toxic chaos of our political divisions; the desperation of people in our towns and cities without enough food, shelter or jobs; the curse of racism. The list goes on. 

Hearing this powerful Gospel today can clear our minds and spirits. God’s will, revealed in Jesus, is to protect and heal human life, to liberate us from the bonds of evil whatever form it takes. This is the Christian mission to the world.



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