Fourth Sunday of Ordinary Time
“Laudato Si’ Journey – Sunday Gospel”
Sunday, January 28th
4th SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME – CYCLE B
Mk 1, 21-28
Let us continue our journey together on the steps of the word through the Sunday Gospel which today presents us with the first day of Jesus’ mission and his teaching in the synagogue of Capernaum. Apparently, we are in what seems to be a liturgical scene or an exorcism and yet we will see that it is a gesture of Creation.
We are in the very first lines of the Gospel of Mark, which—in a very concise and immediate way—describes Jesus’ journey at an accelerated pace: from John the Baptist to the baptism, from the temptations in the desert to the call of the first apostles by the lake, and it all takes place within the first 20 verses of the Gospel. Now here we are, in the fishing village, experiencing the first day of Jesus’ mission.
“Then they came to Capernaum and on the sabbath he entered the synagogue”. We are immediately given two clear indications of space and time. Today’s Gospel continues last Sunday’s story, in which Jesus announced a kairos, here and now. The “here” is Capernaum, the city of Peter and the newly called fishermen. The “now” is the Sabbath day, the first day described in the gospel of Mark. This is how the mission is realized. Jesus did one thing: “he taught”.
Mark does not tell us what He actually taught. He emphasizes the method, “for he taught them as one having authority,” and the reaction that the teaching arouses: “they were astonished”. How nice it would have been to have listened to him live—in person! Hearing words of truth that can shake the heart. It was a teaching so true because it came from within. It was delivered with authority precisely because it was evidently lived. The opposite of any lie is demonstrated in its very contradiction.
Something happens on this quite ordinary Saturday “in their synagogue”. The physical reference is quite striking – that in that synagogue, in that fishing village, on that day there was a man possessed by an impure spirit. It is understood that the man was normally there so there’s nothing unusual about that. However, on that particular Saturday, the man starts shouting! Why does he cry out and shout on that very Saturday? He is shaken by Jesus’ teachings. The encounter with the Lord, in truth, shakes everyone’s heart and also that of this man. Unless we have a real encounter, we too can go to the synagogue every Saturday or go to church every Sunday, yet remain cold and untouched.
“What have you to do with us?” the spirit shouts, it speaks in the plural because being both evil and a lie, it splits the personality of that man. Maybe it translates better as “what’s the problem between you and me?”, a typical expression between alliances if there is a pact that’s being threatened. Ultimately, evil wants us to believe that God is allied with it, a judging God who exists precisely because there is evil to judge. But God is first and foremost a creator (even before being a redeemer). He is the artist who so desires beauty that evil tries to ruin it at every opportunity.
In fact, asking “Have you come to destroy us?” is another lie from within the cry of the impure spirit. It makes us think that this might be said by a regular visitor to the synagogue or the pious believer we can find at Mass. Many times we ourselves, frequent visitors, have this image of God that we need to shake up. You can also tell a lie by saying something perfectly true, but out of context: “I know who you are – the Holy One of God!” a perfect definition of Jesus. However, at the same time, to say that the Holy One of God comes to destroy, demonstrates a great lie about the idea of God that one might have.
Jesus comes, with his authority, to give dignity to the person, to each of us, dissociating the sin from the sinner, or the disease from the diseased, separating this false ‘ double’ “us” that shouts out. He counters the shout with a “rebuke”, using the words Φιμώθητι καὶ ἔξελθε ἐξ αὐτοῦ. They are the only words of Jesus that we hear in the synagogue at Capernaum: “Quiet! Come out of him!” First of all, that “Quiet!” literally means “put a muzzle on”, obviously not addressed to the person, but to the disease within (which always speaks too much and too loudly within us). But that’s not all. Jesus sternly orders it to leave the person because that is not its place. We were not created by God to be the home of dis-ease. If it comes in, it has to leave, because it is trespassing. Jesus comes to free us from this trespasser and takes us back to the origins of Creation.
The Creation that Jesus carries out in the synagogue brings this man back to his truth; it is a struggle between lies and the freedom of man brought back to himself, back to what he was in the garden of Eden. We started out with a man who shouts out and seems to know who God is, to discover instead that it is God who knows man, because He created him with that same word with which He frees him into truth. It is a violent Creation and a struggle because the scene that presents itself is really dynamic, “The unclean spirit convulsed him and with a loud cry came out of him”. Evil resists and it is not easy for the twisted idea of God that we have within us to emerge calmly. There is nothing easy about meeting Jesus in life.
The first reaction by those present is one of amazement, followed by fear. It’s not really fear, but ἐθαμβήθησαν, more like being dazzled or enlightened. It’s the certainty of authoritative teaching, the confirmation of the feeling born upon first hearing the words of this Man who came to teach. “His fame spread everywhere throughout the whole region of Galilee.” Galilee, a place that represents our everyday life, a place where we mend our nets and where God observes us and searches for us. This Man who comes today to teach me, and you who are reading, and invites us to emerge from our apparent tranquility of every day. He invites us to shake up our hearts and listen to his Word, which unsettles us rather than helps us feel calm.
This Sunday, let us pray to the Lord so that we may joyfully welcome the invitation to liberation proposed by Francis of Assisi who said in the paraphrase of the Our Father: “And lead us not into temptation: hidden or manifest, sudden or insistent. But deliver us from evil: past, present and future” (FF 274).
We sincerely wish you a peaceful Sunday, accompanied by the Word of the Lord!