4th Sunday in Ordinary Time B – January 28, 2024

 

4th Sunday in Ordinary Time B – January 28, 2024

Deuteronomy 18: 15-20; 1 Corinthians 7: 32-35; Mark 1: 21-28

 

Theme: To Be Free from Anxieties and Any Other Evil Spirits

Today’s Gospel is a continuation of last Sunday’s Gospel which told us the story of the calling of the first four disciples according to Mark. These fishermen left everything and followed Jesus who promised to transform them from fishermen to fishers of men (Mark 1: 17). This transition is a process. They need to pass through different trainings and formations. Then, the Gospel passage we heard today recounts their first experience with their master Jesus. They witnessed for the first time how their master teaches with authority and drives out the unclean spirit in public. Like these new disciples, we too started (or renewed) our new discipleship on Christmas which we celebrated last month. Now, in this ordinary time, our Holy Mother Church suggests to us the Scripture readings which enable us to grow up in our relationship with God.  Thus, the Bible readings of this Sunday teach us that Jesus who teaches with authority and whom unclean spirits obey (Gospel) is the “prophet like Moses” whom God promised to the people of Israel (first reading). Then, in our second reading, Saint Paul urges us to be free of anxiety since anxiety takes our attention away from praying to Jesus and serving his Church.

The first reading passage is in the context of the end of Moses’ life. He promises his people that one day God will raise up a prophet like himself from among their kin to whom all the people need to listen (v. 15). Moses reminds them that the coming of this “prophet-like-him” is what they had requested of the Lord at Mount Horeb when they feared to hear the voice of God and see his mighty presence. The full story of how the Israelites feared direct interactions with God and requested Moses to be the mediator between them and God is found in Deuteronomy 5: 22-27. In our reading, Moses clarifies that the words that the “prophet-like-him” will tell them are the words of God and they should listen to him lest God himself will hold them accountable for it (vv. 18-19). This reading emphasizes the establishment of a permanent mediator between God and the people of Israel. Jesus is this permanent mediator between God and, not only the Israelites but all believers. We should no longer feel frightened to hear God’s voice and see him as the people of Israel did in Deuteronomy 5: 22-27 because Jesus came to live like us. He is Emmanuel, “God with us”. Moses asks us to listen to him; he who has and is the Word of God. In our Gospel, we see the people listening to Jesus.

This short Gospel can be divided into two parts. The first part talks about the teaching of Jesus and the second one tells the account of the cure of a man with an unclean spirit.

After calling his first four disciples (see the Gospel of last Sunday for reference), Jesus traveled to Capernaum with them. On the Sabbath, they entered the Synagogue and Jesus taught the people. Those who heard his teaching were astonished, for he taught them not like the scribes but like the one having authority (v. 22). The Scribes were religious scholars of the law. Their teachings were based on detailed arguments and careful citation of authoritative texts. On the contrary, Jesus’ teachings were based on his personal authority as Prophet-like Moses (see our first reading) and as God. In this first part of our Gospel, the focus is not on the content of Jesus’ teaching but on the effect of astonishment and alarm on the people who listened to the Word of God that Jesus taught. How do we listen to the Word of God? Last Sunday, we celebrated the Sunday of the Word of God. Our Holy Mother Church here again invites us to listen attentively and reverently to the Word of God, especially when it is proclaimed during the Eucharistic celebration. Jesus is the “Prophet-like-Moses” (see our first reading) who conveys to us the Word of God with authority in the Scripture readings and homily at Mass.

The second part of our Gospel recounts the story of the healing of a demoniac. The narrator says that there was a man with an unclean spirit who was in that synagogue. Recognizing the holiness of Jesus, the demon becomes defensive in response, “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!” (v. 24). Jesus rebukes him and casts him out by the power of his Word alone. “Quiet! Come out of him!” (v. 26). The unclean spirit came out of this man.

First, it is interesting to learn that the demon can be found in the Church of God at the time of worship. This man with an unclean spirit was there in the synagogue when Jesus was teaching. It tells us that until today, the people under the influence of spirits of evil may be found even in the Church of God at times of worship with a plan to oppose the mission of the Church. The demon is not happy when we worship God, serve his Church, and especially, when we read and listen to his Word. His presence in the places of worship is to distract us in different ways, especially through anxiety. This is the concern of Saint Paul in our second reading.

Saint Paul exhorts the Corinthian believers including us today to be free of anxieties that, according to him, take our attention away from prayer and service to the Church. Through his exhortation in this reading, Paul does not say that married life is inferior to the celibate life. Rather, he is trying to teach us that we should devote all our time and energy to prayer and service to God and our brothers and sisters. Regardless of our state in life (married or celibate), our primary baptismal vocation is to devote ourselves to prayer and serving God in his Church and wherever we live. We should not let the devil with his strategy of making us anxious stop us from fulfilling our baptismal call.

Second, we learn from our Gospel that the Church continues Jesus’ mission of teaching and exorcism. She exercises her power over evil spirits in formal exorcism, but also through the sacraments, particularly Confession. A good Confession frees our souls from the demon’s grasp, reconciles us with God, and unites us back more closely to God. Satan is enraged when people worship God, serve him in his Church, read and listen to the Scriptures, and especially when they go to confession because he knows that these are the moments when he loses souls. This part of the Gospel teaches us to use the sacrament of Confession regularly because it is the exorcism par excellence.

Jesus is the “Prophet-like-Moses”. His authority of teaching and power over evil spirits continues to be exercised by the Church which is his Body. May this liturgy of the Eucharist free us from anxieties and any other forms of the devil and enable us to devote ourselves to prayer and serving God in our Church and our brothers and sisters. Amen.

Rev. Leon Ngandu, SVD

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