01.31.2021 Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time

‘Triumph of Christianity over Paganism’

1868



Gustave Doré

(1832-1883)

Art Gallery of Hamilton

Ontario


In this painting, we see Christ in the top half, bearing His cross, surrounded by angels. The angels are seen with swords drawn and shields ready to fight pagan evils on the earth below. Among the pagans depicted are recognisable gods from the Classical world, with Zeus at the centre, holding a thunderbolt in his left hand.

To quote Pope Francis regarding spiritual warfare: “The devil is present on the first page of the Bible, and the Bible ends with the presence of the devil: God’s definitive victory over evil.”… The painting illustrates this.


Lectio


Mark 1:21-28

21“They went to Capernaum; and when the sabbath came, he entered the synagogue and taught. 22They were astounded at his teaching, for he taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes. 23Just then there was in their synagogue a man with an unclean spirit, 24and 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.’ 25But Jesus rebuked him, saying, ‘Be silent, and come out of him!’ 26And the unclean spirit, convulsing him and crying with a loud voice, came out of him. 27They were all amazed, and they kept on asking one another, ‘What is this? A new teaching—with authority! He commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey him.’ 28At once his fame began to spread throughout the surrounding region of Galilee.”



Meditatio

Context

Mark 1:9: “Jesus came from Nazareth in Galilee and was baptized by John in the River Jordan.”

Mark 1: 12: “The Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness.”

Mark 1: 14: “After John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee.”

Mark 1:21: He goes to Capernaum, already with his Disciples.


Jesus makes a significant decision to move to Capernaum and make this little town his ‘centre of operations’ from where he began to preach the Good News. The section in the Gospel of Mark that runs from 1:21 to 3:6 forms a literary unit that is called: ‘the day in Capernaum’.


We have no evidence to suggest that Jesus had his own house in Capernaum. This suggests that He accepted the hospitality of Peter[1].


It is obvious that Jesus decided to choose the margins of the Empire to proclaim the Kingdom. In due course, He did not avoid the places of influence (Jerusalem), however, Jesus spent most of his ministry in the byways and the highways of Israel.


In Verse 14 Mark presents Jesus in Capernaum. He is being introduced to people in the Synagogue. There, in a religious setting, He is going to make the first proclamation of the Kingdom[2].

The Proclamation through Words

The words of Jesus make a deep impression on his listeners. His speech does not emulate what, or repeat words or teachings that, others had said before.


Jesus did not have any formal teacher, nor was He a disciple of any master, as Saint Paul was of Gamaliel[3]. We believe his only teachers were his parents, Joseph and Mary. Neither of them apparently belonged to any leading family of the time. Joseph was a carpenter and Mary a housewife, and a widow when Jesus began his ministry.


As regards matters of this world, Joseph and Mary evidently were his best teachers, and for what regards matters of the Kingdom, God the Father was the source of his Wisdom.


His authority

What captivates his listeners is the way Jesus taught: with authority (in Greek: exousian). Since He is in complete syntony with God, Jesus is aware that He came to fulfill the prophecy of the Old Testament[4].


“Authority” in this context means the expression of a prophetic voice given to Him only by God. The people who stand before him understood that ‘the long-awaited Prophet had arrived and was there, in their Synagogue.’


It is not only the content, but the way in which Jesus teaches, that impresses the people. For this reason, by adopting a different way of teaching, Jesus creates a critical awareness in people concerning the religious authority of that time.

Jesus does not quote any authority. He speaks rather of his experience of God and of the world. His word is rooted in the heart.


His Deeds

The healing of the demoniac is a sign of how “near the Kingdom of God had come”[5]. The Kingdom is made present to simple, uneducated people in a remote area of Galilee. It was a manifestation of the divine, not through powerful cosmic events, but through the restoring to health of a man disregarded by his society as a sinner. The healing took place by means of the creative Word of Jesus.


Mark is leading his readers to understanding why ‘this time’ is new and how it affects the normal lives of the people of his day.


The healing takes place on a Sabbath, the day of rest for the Jews, in the Synagogue, right there, in front of the people and, of course, in the presence of the Scribes and Pharisees.


The Healing

By omitting the content of the speech of Jesus, Mark focuses on the reaction of his listeners and on the healing of the demoniac and of its far reaching implications heralding the arrival of the Kingdom of God.


Whether the sickness was physical, psychological, social, moral or spiritual does not matter to the Gospel writer. This is a man held prisoner by some form of evil power, and who was completely ostracized by his society. He lived on the assumption that his sickness was the result of some kind of fault, sin or evil on his part.


The man possessed by an evil spirit experienced the liberating power of the Word of Jesus. Around him everyone thought that he was held captive by evil powers, and the man himself lived with the conviction that he was an unworthy, sinful human being. Jesus freed from social bondage as well as from his own sense of unworthiness.


The unclean spirit

The ‘demon’ speaks in plural signifying the power it had over the man.

We have just heard from Mark that Jesus stayed forty days in the wilderness tempted by Satan[6]. The evil spirit, powerful as it may seem, is powerless before Jesus.


What the evil spirit who possessed the man is trying to do is to create difficulties for the ministry of Jesus. This is expressed in the Gospel of Mark by the so-called ‘Messianic Secret’. Jesus in his public ministry had to keep to himself and his circle of Disciples his identity as Son of God and Messiah, so that people would not be guided by false expectations.


Jesus was not the powerful, political revolutionary that many people expected of the Messiah. The early proclamation of Jesus as the Messiah would have prevented Jesus from moving freely about conditioned by his rising popularity and those false expectations the evil spirit was keen on promoting.


In the Gospel of Mark the full manifestation of the Messianic identity of Jesus will only be made manifest before the Cross when a pagan soldier exclaimed, “Truly this man was the Son of God!”[7]. At that point no one could have interpreted his ministry as a triumphalist revolutionary leader seeking to overthrow the political establishment of his day.


Conclusion

This text makes clear how simple uneducated people recognize and accept Jesus as the long-awaited Messiah. Even the evil spirit witnesses to his identity as the “Holy One of God.” However, the leaders and religious authorities will not accept his words and deeds as ‘Good News’ of liberation, nor that his authority comes from God.


Therefore, we can see how Mark in just a few sentences has made a synthesis of the Good News and how Jesus is going to develop this:

1. The praxis of Jesus as an itinerary preacher (with no place where to lay his head);

2. His proclamation of the Kingdom of God through words and deeds (healings);

3. His decision to live on the margins of society;

4. His liberating power in favour of the poor and dispossessed;

5. His identity as the Messiah and Son of God;

6. The controversy with the religious and political leaders of his day.

In a nut shell, the centre of the Gospel of Mark is the Good News about the Paschal Mystery, the Passion, Death and Resurrection of Jesus Christ, the Messianic Son of God.

Oratio

Psalm 95: 1-2, 6-9

Come, let us sing joyfully to the LORD; let us acclaim the rock of our salvation. Let us come into his presence with thanksgiving; let us joyfully sing psalms to him. Come, let us bow down in worship; let us kneel before the LORD who made us. For he is our God, and we are the people he shepherds, the flock he guides. Oh, that today you would hear his voice: "Harden not your hearts as at Meribah, as in the day of Massah in the desert, Where your fathers tempted me; they tested me though they had seen my works."

Contemplatio


The Lord proposes a conversion of mind, heart and life. Whatever is inspired by the Spirit of God, the Spirit of God will bring to fulfilment with our agreement and active cooperation.


“He taught them as one having authority”.

I understand and have respect for the authority of Christ and his Church. I wish I could better master my will so as to live by the will of God.


I desire to encounter Jesus and come to know Him better.

For my part I do not seek to resist. I offer my availability to the action of the Holy Spirit in my life.


His fame spread everywhere.

I take the initiative to spread the name of Jesus.

I tell of my enthusiasm in being a disciple of Jesus and invite others to meet Him: my Lord, my Saviour, my all and my God.

[1] Matthew 8: 14: “When Jesus entered Peter’s house, he saw his mother-in-law lying in bed with a fever.” [2] Luke 4: 18: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free.” [3] Acts 22: 3: “I am a Jew, born in Tarsus in Cilicia, but brought up in this city at the feet of Gamaliel, educated strictly according to our ancestral law, being zealous for God, just as all of you are today.” [4] Deuteronomy 18:18: “I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their own people; I will put my words in the mouth of the prophet, who shall speak to them everything that I command.” [5] Mark: 1: 15: “The Kingdom of God is close at hand.” [6] Mark 1:13 [7] Mark 15:39: “Now when the centurion, who stood facing him, saw that in this way he breathed his last, he said, ‘Truly this man was God’s Son!’”

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