Franciscan Friar Fr. Paul Gallagher reflects on the Gospel text for the Fourth Sunday of Ordinary Time. What are your beliefs about the spirit world? How do those beliefs find expression in how you pray and live your life?
The content is edited by Franciscan Sister of Christian Charity Sister Anne Marie Lom and Joe Thiel. The excerpts from the Sunday readings are prepared by Joe Thiel. To read or download the complete pdf with excerpts for your prayer, please click here Franciscan Gospel Reflection January 28 2024 Excerpts are from the Lectionary for Mass for Use in the Dioceses of the United States of America, second typical edition © 2001, 1998, 1997, 1986, 1970 Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, Inc., Washington, DC. Used with permission. All rights reserved. No portion of this text may be reproduced by any means without permission in writing from the copyright owner. Photos: Richard Croft / Dan Becker window; Nesrine Younes, CC BY-SA 4.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0>, via Wikimedia Commons
Then they came to Capernaum, and on the Sabbath Jesus entered the synagogue and taught. The people were astonished at his teaching, for he taught them as one having authority and not as the scribes.
In their synagogue was a man with an unclean spirit; he cried out, “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 him and said, “Quiet! Come out of him!” The unclean spirit convulsed him and with a loud cry came out of him.
All were amazed and asked one another, “What is this? A new teaching with authority. He commands even the unclean spirits and they obey him.” His fame spread everywhere throughout the whole region of Galilee.
The Gospel text for this Sunday follows the call of the first disciples that was read last Sunday. Here Mark describes Jesus as he begins public ministry. Capernaum is a small village north of the Sea of Galilee. It becomes the base of Jesus’ early ministry. The beginning and the end of the text describe Jesus as a teacher, but he is not like the other teachers of the day. He teaches with authority. The scribes are the scholars and lawyers of the day, and they are among the elite of society, but under the authority of the rabbis. They would teach by citing the teachings of other great teachers who had gone before them. One might think of a teacher who quotes many highly respected sources in the course of a lecture.
Jesus’ teaching is described in the middle verses of this text. Rather than describe in some detail one of Jesus’ teaching moments, Mark describes Jesus’ encounter with an unclean spirit. People of the day believed in the presence of many spirits. Some were kind, others were menacing, but all were believed to be more powerful than humans were. The people believed that only God was more powerful. In Mark, the spirit knows who Jesus is and identifies him immutably as “the Holy One of God,” a title for God that is used in the Hebrew Scriptures, especially by Isaiah.
The average person used a variety of objects and techniques in order to have some protection from the menacing power of an evil spirit. Contact with someone with an unclean spirit would render him or her impure. The presence of someone with an evil spirit in the synagogue would have been disruptive. In the Gospel, the spirit tries get the upper hand by claiming to know Jesus’ name, calling him Jesus of Nazareth and the Holy One of God. But Jesus is the more powerful, despite the fact that the spirit can call out his name. Jesus tells all the evil spirits to be quiet and come out of the man. They are obedient to him, the carpenter’s son, who taught “with a new kind of authority,” and his fame spreads.
- What are your beliefs about the spirit world? How do those beliefs find expression in how you pray and live your life?
- Do you have any experiences of the presence of spirits in your life?
- When you think of Jesus as a teacher, what are some of the moments of Jesus as a teacher that stand out for you? How have you tried to respond to Jesus’ teaching in your own life?
- When you think of Jesus revealing his authority, what are the moments you recall? What does it mean for you that Jesus taught with authority?
- Who are the people who have taught you with authority? What is it, about them that gave them their authority?
- Can you take some time to talk to God about your desire to have good teachers in your life, or thank God for those who have been teachers in your life, or maybe you have felt called to be a teacher and need to talk to God about that vocation?