Rejoice! With Jesus we can face every challenge:
be it as deep as the ocean or as high as the sky!
by Fr Dan Carroll
In the Book of Deuteronomy the Lord said to Moses ‘I will raise up for you a prophet from among your own people; I will put my Words in the mouth of the prophet, who shall speak to the people everything that I command.’ This prophecy was fulfilled when Jesus went to Capernaum in Galilee to teach.
On arriving in Capernaum Jesus went to the Synagogue as it was the Sabbath. He was being a faithful Jew. He taught the people about the Law but he taught with a difference and the people realised this. He was able to expand on the Law while being faithful to it. This was possible because of his relationship to His Father. There was an urgency about Jesus’ teaching because he wanted the people to be blessed with the power and spirit of God’s Word. The people were amazed and acknowledged that he taught with an authority the Scribes or Pharisees did not have.
A man with an unclean spirit recognised Jesus saying ‘Jesus of Nazareth, what have you to do with us, have you come to destroy us?’ Jesus healed the man and the unclean spirit left him.
The authority Jesus had came from his Father and it was the ability to turn power into humility, to reach down to where people were at, to understand their pain and sufferings and heal their wounds.
The people saw that Jesus not only proclaimed a message of love but lived this love. Jesus taught the people that through him God was coming to them, and, because they are his beloved children he wants them to enter the fullness of life.
This Gospel passage raises questions for us: What power or space do I give the Word of God in my life? Am I able to stand back in wonder and amazement and let God bring me to a new place as he did for the people in the synagogue? Can I allow the Word of God bring me to a new freedom, a new understanding of who I am?
Mary, the Mother of Jesus was the one person who received Jesus in a full and complete way. “Mother of God, give us the grace and desire to receive the Word, your Son Jesus into our lives so that may know how to love freely, truthfully and joyfully. Amen
Scripture readings: Courtesy of Universalis Publishing Ltd. – www.universalis.com
Reflections and Prayers by Fr Jack Finnegan SDB
1st Reading – Deuteronomy 18:15-20
Moses said to the people: ‘The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like myself, from among yourselves, from your own brothers; to him you must listen. This is what you yourselves asked of the Lord your God at Horeb on the day of the Assembly. “Do not let me hear again” you said “the voice of the Lord my God, nor look any longer on this great fire, or I shall die”; and the Lord said to me, “All they have spoken is well said. I will raise up a prophet like yourself for them from their own brothers; I will put my words into his mouth and he shall tell them all I command him. The man who does not listen to my words that he speaks in my name, shall be held answerable to me for it. But the prophet who presumes to say in my name a thing I have not commanded him to say, or who speaks in the name of other gods, that prophet shall die.”’
Moses first described the God-given prophetic role we are familiar with in the Old Testament. The prophets who followed him reveal God’s plan for a cosmos moving towards its finishing point: Jesus. The heart of the reading lies here: I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their kin, and will put my words into his mouth; he shall tell them all that I instruct him. Don’t be surprised that explicit in the reading is a warning about false prophets and visionaries. The challenge for us is to listen deeply and with discernment. Note the prophetic word’s insistence on integrity and justice. Then recognise Jesus as the ultimate fulfilment of Moses’ prophecy. Jesus is the Holy One who teaches God’s word with awe-inspiring authority and brings God’s love and healing compassion to the world.
LORD, Adonai, help us to recognise the voice of your prophets today. Help us listen to those who teach in your name. Teach us to respond joyfully to your prophetic word. Strengthen our desire to listen to Jesus. Give us the courage to nurture a better world, a world of justice, integrity and respect. Teach us how to stand in compassionate solidarity with Jesus and the poor. And show us how to bring your healing love to the world. Amen.
Psalm – Psalm 94(95):1-2,6-9
Psalm 95 is sometimes called the Venite psalm, from the Latin invitation to come and sing joyfully to God! We do well to remember this invitation every morning as we start a new day, hailing God’s presence with gratitude in our hearts. But this is also a psalm of two halves. The first half invites and encourages us, the second challenges us and puts us on our guard. The switch is in the refrain. Note how it focuses our attention quite specifically on the challenge to listen attentively to the prophetic word with open hearts and minds. Then it raises a plain warning: the ever-present temptation to harden our selfish hearts to God’s liberating word. Remember: gratitude softens the human heart and brings healing.
LORD, Adonai, we repent the times we have hardened our hearts. We repent the times we have turned from your ways and followed our own self-centred interests. Forgive us, LORD. Soften our hearts today. Open us to your prophetic word. We come to you singing songs of joy! We acclaim you and praise you! We bow down in radical worship before you! Hear our songs of gratitude! You are our God! May we be your people now and forever! Amen.
2nd Reading – 1 Corinthians 7:32-35
I would like to see you free from all worry. An unmarried man can devote himself to the Lord’s affairs, all he need worry about is pleasing the Lord; but a married man has to bother about the world’s affairs and devote himself to pleasing his wife: he is torn two ways. In the same way an unmarried woman, like a young girl, can devote herself to the Lord’s affairs; all she need worry about is being holy in body and spirit. The married woman, on the other hand, has to worry about the world’s affairs and devote herself to pleasing her husband. I say this only to help you, not to put a halter round your necks, but simply to make sure that everything is as it should be, and that you give your undivided attention to the Lord.
The key to understanding these few verses, which continue where last week’s reading ended, is found in verse 35: propriety and devotion to the Lord without distraction. Responding to practical questions from the community, Paul treats men and women as equals. Regarding marriage and celibacy, he lays down no hard and fast rule, recognising the role of personal choice and vocation in such concerns. The challenge for all of us is to lovingly embrace our vocation and to live lives of integrity that give honest witness to our devotion to the Lord. If our spirituality is genuine it will motivate us to recognise and glorify God in all ways of life and in all aspects of life and creation. That’s what it means to be a follower of Jesus. Are we up to the challenge?
Lord Jesus, grant us the grace to act with integrity in all we do. May we honour you with undivided minds and hearts! Help us to lovingly embrace our vocation. May we give consistent witness to our commitments to you! Give us the grace to reach beyond selfish distractions and say yes to you. May we hold fast to you today and rejoice in your love! Amen.
Gospel Reading – Mark 1:21-28
Jesus and his disciples went as far as Capernaum, and as soon as the sabbath came he went to the synagogue and began to teach. And his teaching made a deep impression on them because, unlike the scribes, he taught them with authority.
In their synagogue just then there was a man possessed by an unclean spirit and it shouted, ‘What do you want with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are: the Holy One of God.’ But Jesus said sharply, ‘Be quiet! Come out of him!’ And the unclean spirit threw the man into convulsions and with a loud cry went out of him. The people were so astonished that they started asking each other what it all meant. ‘Here is a teaching that is new’ they said ‘and with authority behind it: he gives orders even to unclean spirits and they obey him.’ And his reputation rapidly spread everywhere, through all the surrounding Galilean countryside.
Last week we saw that after John the Baptist was taken Jesus called Peter, Andrew, James and John. They then moved to Capernaum where Jesus found a house and began his public ministry. He did this by engaging in two closely related actions. He went first to the synagogue to teach and then, while he was there, he performed a deliverance. In telling us this story Mark makes two points about Jesus’ person and mission. First, Jesus teaches and liberates in a new way with great personal authority and power. Then his fame spreads through all the country. In other words, divine revelation is a union of word and deed. The lesson is clear: Jesus’ word is a word of power, an active word that liberates the receptive human spirit. The invitation to each of us today is to open our lives more fully to Jesus’ liberating word and action. Are we ready to allow him to bring God’s work in our lives and the cosmos to glorious completion?
Lord Jesus, renew your wonders in our day. Restore our faith. Let our hearts burn within us as we reflect on your word. Day by day speak your word of power into our lives. Turn our weeping into dancing! Liberate us from the distractions and temptations that surround us! Give us the courage to embrace your way and your mind in all things. Show us how to follow you in word and deed and walk in your ways as your faithful and loving disciples. Amen.
Word of God and Salesian Life by Fr Juan José Bartolomé SDB
Today’s Gospel presents a picture of Jesus that we are well used to, or think we are used to – a Jesus that fits in well with our ideas. It introduces Jesus as a Teacher who teaches with authority. The episode takes place at the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry, in Capernaum, the town where he had chosen to live. The people were astonished at his teaching. He did not claim to explain the law of God, as the scribes did. Jesus presented the law of God directly, without compromise, with examples that made his message clear. That is where his teaching got its authority. He could prove with deeds what he said in words. The work of his hands matched the words of his lips. When he saw someone sick among his listeners he did not simply go on with his teaching. He cured even the incurable. His words had power to heal. He stopped preaching in order to heal. Or rather, he proclaimed the good news by healing the illness of one of his listeners.
Read: understand what the text is saying, focussing on how it says it
Mark reports the first of Jesus’ miracles as taking place on a day when he was teaching (Mk 1, 21-35). The miracle consisted in victory over an evil spirit, a victory which Jesus proclaimed in his teaching. This gave him an authority previously unheard of (Mk 1, 22.27). In fact, Jesus did nothing else that day but cure the sick man who was possessed (1, 22.27.39), but Mark makes a point of presenting the miracle as part of Jesus’ teaching. The healing of a man possessed by an evil spirit was his first lesson. It is significant that he begins his work of evangelization, not by preaching but by healing, setting a man free from evil.
The first proclamation of the kingdom was done by casting out the Evil One and reducing his power over men. There was no better way for Jesus to evangelize. The first thing Jesus does is to help a man in need, setting him free from the devil. That was Jesus’ way of teaching with authority. Jesus evangelized by drawing people to God through his teaching, and by driving away evil from people who were suffering. One cannot be an evangelizer of the Kingdom without combating evil.
The miracle consists of an exorcism which is reported in the normal way (Mk 1, 23-27). It is proof of a new way of teaching (Mk 1, 21-22.28). The most important thing is not Jesus’ encounter with the evil spirit, but the fact that he teaches with authority previously unheard of, and he demonstrates his authority by liberating the man from the evil spirit.
There is a significant detail: Jesus not only cures the possessed man, but he also prevents the evil spirit from speaking. Before expelling it, he reduces the evil spirit to silence. There is no dialogue with the evil spirit that controlled the man. The coming of God is announced with authority and there is no conversation with anyone who does harm to man. The people of Capernaum were astonished that the unclean spirits obeyed Jesus, and they had good reason for their amazement. Such was his authority that he could order the evil spirit to be quiet, and the evil spirit respected his command.
Meditate: apply what the text says to life
It is interesting that the gospel passage begins and ends by insisting on the teaching of Jesus and the authority with which he teaches. This teaching is inserted into the account of a miraculous healing. It is Jesus’ deeds rather than his words that make him known. He is a master who teaches by giving health to someone in need of it. Unfortunately, right at the beginning of his ministry, the evil spirits realize who he is and what his presence means. Without engaging them in conversation, Jesus orders them to leave the possessed man. The healing of the man is the most important part of Jesus’ teaching. Evangelization which does not take account of the controlling power of evil, and which underestimates the presence of evil among men, is not authentic. If Jesus is to proclaim that it is God’s will to conquer evil, he must first unmask its power and set its victims free. This is the only way that men will believe in God’s goodness and his promise to care for mankind. Clearly then, the gospel must be proclaimed with authority that comes from God, by combating the evil that exists in men.
It is logical that the people should ask how it was possible for a man to possess such power. Even now, we might ask the same question. We should not be surprised today at something from the past that we have not seen for ourselves. Rather we should ask ourselves what we can learn from this account. In what sense can the healing of a man many centuries ago be good news for us today? If we believe that possessed people exist, or did exist in the past, what difference does the action of Jesus in healing one of them make for us?
Marvelling at the authority of Jesus will lead us to believe that evil does exist in our world, and in our own lives. Jesus teaches us to confront evil with authority, wherever it may be hiding. Certainly, nowadays, evil is no longer confused with sickness, however repugnant or undeserved the sickness may be, but this was the way the people at the time of Jesus thought. Our way of understanding evil is different, but we still have to admit that evil exists also in our time. It is still there, in us and in our world, and it seems at times to be more powerful and more effective than good. The surprising thing is, not that we become aware that evil exists in our world, but that we have become so accustomed to its presence and its power. We live with evil, hoping that it will not touch us.
We deny the reality of evil and at times we fool ourselves into thinking that we have overcome it. We don’t talk about it and we think we have driven it away. When we are forced to admit the reality of evil, because we have been subjected to its power, we recognise it more readily in the people around us than in ourselves. It is less painful to acknowledge the wickedness of others than our own. This is a characteristic of some good people. It is a temptation that befalls all those who think they are better than others, because they have not fallen to the same level of evil as other people. When people think like that, they miss out on the power of Jesus, who healed the sick and set free the possessed.
Of all those people who were listening to Jesus that day, and marvelling at his teaching, only one man, the sick man who was possessed, was able to recognise him as the Holy One of God. This is a perfect image of our situation in the Church at the present time, at both personal and community level. We deny evil. We are afraid to accept the presence of evil and of the devil in us. This leaves us thinking that we are all right. But it will not heal our sickness nor make us better people. We need to have courage to confess our evil to Jesus, as the possessed man did. We should ask to be healed, with a loud shout if necessary. Unless we have the courage to present ourselves to Jesus as people controlled by evil that we cannot get rid of ourselves, by our own power, we will never really know who the Holy One of God is for us. We will not discover his power to eliminate the roots of evil from us.
How are we to know when we are victims of evil? How do we know the weight of our sinfulness? By listening to Jesus and to his gospel. His authority will reveal to us the evil in us that needs healing. We will also discover Jesus as the life, the one who has power to give us life, provided we come close to him. We are losing our sense of sin, and so we move further away from Jesus. If we think we are healthy, we feel no need to seek a doctor. If we have made peace with the evil that is in us, we might think – like the possessed man in the gospel – that Jesus has come to disturb us. If he heals us, it will serve only to complicate our lives. We have made peace with our sinful ways, and we don’t want to be disturbed. But if we take seriously the reality of the evil that exists in our hearts and all around us, we will feel our need for Jesus. We will shout out in prayer for him to save us.
If we are not yet altogether convinced of the reality of evil and its frightening power, then we need to go to Jesus and listen to him attentively. We need to pay more attention to him, and give him more frequent opportunities to reveal to us our true state. He will heal us and transform us.
The more attentive we are to his thoughts and his teaching, the closer to him we will become. His demands will not be hard, nor his presence threatening. But we need to listen to him the way the people of Capernaum did, marvelling at what he says and the power with which he acts. Unfortunately – and this may be the root of our ills – the disciples of today listen to everyone who speaks. They listen to people who promise them much less than what God promises. He is the only one who has power to do what he says he will do, and he promises good things far beyond what we can imagine.
If we listen to God more often and more attentively, he will deliver us from our all evil – the evil we are all too readily aware of, and the evil in us that we do not even suspect. Let’s not fool ourselves into thinking that evil, and the evil one, do not exist, or, if they exist, then it is in others and not in us. Evil lies hidden in the wrong we do, and the good we fail to do. It is from this that Jesus comes to set us free. Let us come before Jesus today in all sincerity, like the possessed man in the gospel, and confess our sins, and let us remain with him till he leans over to us, sees our evil, and decides to set us free. However long we wait for our healing, and however much we have to suffer in order to be healed, it will be well worth it in the end. When we hear his voice saying “Come out of him”, then we will know that Jesus is indeed the Holy One of God. Or, will we follow Jesus like the people of Capernaum, without allowing ourselves to be touched by his words and healed by his power? That would be of no benefit to us. When we bring all our evils into the presence of Jesus, he will reveal to us his power and his authority.