4th Sunday in Ordinary Time: 31 January 2021
|(Photo courtesy: Jean Mark Arakelian)|
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The gospel reading (Mark 1:21-28) has a dramatic scene: people are talking to one another Jesus’ ability to speak in a public worshipping place. Jesus a known figure but who did not belong to the group of Scribes and Pharisees had the capacity to teach the worshippers as if one had authority. Then there is a person embraced by the evil spirit, who shouts at Jesus. It seems that he has a stern and a bit commanding voice. But once Jesus says “be quiet” everything is mellowed down. In this gospel passage, the person with evil spirit has no name. His identity is rested on the evil that carried with him. Both at the beginning and the end, there is astonishment and amazement which puts people to think carefully. Jesus begins public life with public worship, practices the faith of his people and does public preaching. He becomes part of a society and in its life.
People during the time of Jesus believed in evil spirits. People still believe in evil spirits in many parts of the world. Evil spirits disorientate and bring disorder and chaos within us. By allowing ungood (even though there is no word like ungood) within us we do not allow the divine around us. We could self examine ourselves as to what is that controls us or rule our life: good or evil?
The theme of authority which is dear to St Mark (9 times in the Gospel) comes again and again in today’s readings: “Jesus taught as one having authority” (Mark 1:22). Through mighty words and deeds, Jesus exercises His dominion, asserting divine authority over the ruler of this world, and Satan (John 12:31). Jesus has power over chaos and satan - not only in the world but in our lives. God wants to transform us wholly into holy in both body and spirit as Paul says in today's Epistle (1 Corinthians 7:32-35).
Moses tells his people a prophet will rise from their own kin and will command as God puts his words into the mouth of the chosen one. St. Paul exhorts his beloved community in Corinth, which funded his missionary journeys on how each Christian should live a life pleasing to God. Anxieties seem to be part of Corinthians and were unable to decide over their priorities in life. Therefore he recommends them to build their identity on God and on Him alone.
II. Authority is to empower and not to incapacitate
The question of authority is a disputed existential phenomenon since the time people realized that they have to obey someone or something. Moses prepares people to accept in the future prophets who would be guiding them. Somehow authority is given to somebody by someone. Authority is not to dictate someone or put someone under one’s control. The modern sin in public life often is to control somebody. The word authority comes from Latin augere which means to increase In Greek, exousia means power that comes from God. In other words, it is to empower someone and here it is people. But this authority is at the service of others. In the case of Moses, it is service to the Lord. Therefore authority is to give the capacity to someone that the person is able to transcend or grow more. This is also similar in the words of Paul “adherence to the Lord” and Jesus’ case obedience to him, because he is the Lord, in Greek Kurios. Authority carries along with it duties and responsibilities. They are very obvious here. Moses speaks on behalf of God. God shoulders him a responsibility. Paul believes that he is an apostle which means one who is sent by the Lord and he must preach God’s Word to Greeks, and then Jesus here who himself is God makes an evil person into a good man, turns the evil into good without destroying him. Thus he becomes the follower of Jesus.
Perhaps the powerful words of Jesus addressed towards those who came to arrest him give us an idea that inherent evil in us. "Every day I was with you in the temple courts, and you did not lay a hand on me. But this is your hour—when darkness reigns” (Lk 22:53). This is the darkness that Jesus is speaking about. The evil spirit is not out there but it is amidst us. The demonic spirit stopped working of God's spirit in that person. So too we can be disturbed by the influence of "bad spirit" (Ignatian term) in our life through distractions, noise, and other malign activity. Paul expresses his desire in the epistle to the Corinthians what it means to live a follower of Christ: It is to be free from unnecessary anxiety. St Paul wishes that all Christians, whatever their marital or otherwise state, may experience unhindered devotion to the Lord. Our relationships, our interests, our talents are all not to create division between me and the Lord but bring glory and praise to Him.
Often I live in a world of mindless living. In such circumstances, only the grace of God might make me to wake up. Therefore we need to be the channels of God's healing and cure. Moreover, we should never be obstacles to the divine plan. We must pay attention to the will of God in our life. The whole purpose of life is to ‘give your undivided attention to the Lord’ as Paul extols. We are all meant to do that, both single and married, priests and laity. Fortunately in every community, every congregation there are those who show the way and give us all a great example of devotion.
Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, reminds us: “Being a Christian is not the result of an ethical choice or a lofty idea, but the encounter with an event, a person, which gives life a new horizon and a decisive direction.” Jesus is a model in this line to understand what is authority. He had the authority to bring people back to the fullness of life. The fullness of life can be found in God and when we are able to recognize within us and around us divine and good. Otherwise, we will be people of emptiness and unhappiness, filled with anxiety and stress.
Jesus did not say I have come to rule you and even when they wanted to crown him as their king he slipped away from them. Prophet Isaiah says he was a suffering servant of Yahweh, one who came to serve and not to be served. He did not call his disciples servants but friends. He was a man of freedom who sought freedom of his people, not the so-called political freedom but freedom from evil spirits like fear, self-centeredness, anger, anxiety, violence, hostility, which prevent the person from being fully alive and fully human. He gave new energies, energies that filled them thus they could have life and life in abundance as he himself said. May he too fill us with his energies and freedom today and always. Amen.Questions for Reflections:
2. Have I recently experienced God's healing in my life? Have I been a source of healing to my brothers or sisters?
3. Who is Jesus for me? What has been my experience of encounter with him during these days of the new year 2021?
- Olvin Veigas, SJ
30 January 2021