Fourth Sunday of Ordinary Time “B” – Fr. Rick Sherman
Dt 18:15-20; Ps 95:1-2, 6-7, 7-9; 1 Cor 7:32-35; Mk 1:21-28
January 31, 2021
“The people were astonished at his teaching, for he taught them as one having authority and not as the scribes.”
This is a very interesting line. To be astonished seems to imply a sort of surprised, maybe spontaneous emotional or visceral reaction. It’s curious that this response is described in contrast to a more typical reaction to the scribes. Almost ‘same ‘ol; same ‘ol’. Yawn.
What must have been particular to Jesus’ voice and demeanor that convinced them that He spoke with authority? Of course, observing and experiencing His miracles would have been a big help. To see a dramatic physical cure or to see a person convulsing as demons were driven out would have certainly encouraged some true believers. But even before any mention of miracles in today’s gospel, which comes from the first chapter of Mark, it says that He teaches with authority. As far as we know this was His first trip to Capernaum, so they are seeing Him for the first time.
It’s also very interesting to notice that the demons themselves seem to know quite certainly, right away, who Jesus is. “What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? …. I know who you are, the Holy One of God!” Notice that the demon in the man refers to himself as ‘us’. The demons must come in groups. Perhaps they are alive and well in others at the synagogue, but who are not quite at the convulsing stage…yet. Maybe that’s how the others recognize the authority in Jesus. His truth is making them uncomfortable.
Think about this. We believe that all humans are created in God’s image and likeness. Unless we have completely given ourselves over to the power of the devil or have been attacked and have become possessed by the devil, then we still have this Divine Presence within us that recognizes the Essence from whom we have come. Jesus and the Kingdom of God is among us and within us. That’s why we always start Mass with an Act of Contrition. We are trying to remove the sin, resistance, confusion and fear that may be keeping us from letting God into our lives in the most special way: the Eucharist. We must expect that the demons are especially at work right before, during and after Mass. I remember in the seminary, each year at the start of the academic year the rector would remind us, and especially the first year seminarians, that “The devil works best in the seminary. The last thing the devil wants is for you guys to become priests.” Given that, what could we expect for any of us during Mass? Not a happy thought. Hopefully, demons in the assembly is just a ‘Capernaum thing’…. something that happened 2000 years ago.
Anyway, the real point here is that the people and the demons seem to recognize the authority of Jesus early on. What about us? We might hear and sense this authority quite easily and quickly during Mass on Sunday, but what does it sound like on Monday or Tuesday or say, even Thursday or Friday? Are we compelled to study the gospel of Mark more closely? Are we more aware of our demons? Are we more likely to go to confession recalling more sincerely the sins of commission and O-mission? Are we more likely to consider social issues of our time in light of our faith and Catholic teaching? Do we look to the papal encyclicals and bishops’ pastoral letters to inform our beliefs and opinions?
Who really is our authority? Who do we listen to consciously or maybe subconsciously? Who has access to our minds and attention most hours of the day and week? This is really an important exercise and one worth doing? Who gets us most riled up and maybe feeling righteous? Who makes us feel stifled and powerless?
Ad lib…… My own life as ‘retired contemplative’…. Distractions, drifting consciousness, perfunctory prayer, NEWS, sports, webinars …. What is the right balance?
When I was doing more parish work in my active ministry days, I would sometimes offer this exercise to parents whose children were starting the new religious education year.
List the 10 biggest influences on your children’s day to day lives?
Romantic interests (often removes one from friends and families)
TV, social media, etc…
Siblings and extended family
Then we asked the parents to try to quantify this list. How many hours do the previous entities have access to the attention, minds and hearts of our children, grandchildren? Who is ‘winning’? It was usually very sobering…for a while. And then busy again….
That could BE our homework:
Who gets our time and attention? How many hours each day and week? Do they ultimately give us an overall feeling of peace and well-being? Or more and more agitated?
Who influences our opinions and lifestyles?
That just COULD be our authority.