February 1, 2015
4th Sunday in Ordinary Time
21 Then they came to Capernaum, and on the Sabbath he [Jesus] entered the synagogue and taught. 22 The people were astonished at his teaching, for he taught them as one having authority and not as the scribes.
23 In their synagogue was a man with an unclean spirit; 24 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!" 25 Jesus rebuked him and said, "Quiet! Come out of him!" 26 The unclean spirit convulsed him and with a loud cry came out of him.
27 All were amazed and asked one another, "What is this? A new teaching with authority. He commands even the unclean spirits and they obey him." 28 His fame spread everywhere throughout the whole region of Galilee.
The gospel text for this Sunday follows after Mark’s call of the first disciples that was the gospel for last week. This then is Mark’s description of the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry. Jesus is described as a teacher at the beginning and the end of the text. But he is not like the other teachers of the day, the scribes who would have taught by citing the teachings of other great teachers who had gone before them. One might think of an article or teacher who cites many highly respected sources.
Jesus’ way of teaching is described in the middle verses of this text. This short description of Jesus’ encounter with the unclean spirit is for Mark the first teaching moment in Jesus’ public ministry. People of the day believed in the presence of many spirits. Some were kind, others were menacing, but all were believed to be more powerful than humans. Only God was more powerful than the spirits. A person with an unclean spirit would have made all those who had contact with him ritually impure, and if he were found in a synagogue, he would have been removed. The spirit in this gospel tries to take the upper hand in the situation by claiming to know Jesus’ name, Jesus of Nazareth and Holy One of God. But Jesus is the more powerful despite that fact that the spirit can call out his name. Jesus tells them, not just one, but many spirits, to be quiet, and then he orders them out of the man. They must obey Jesus.
Not only has Jesus taught in a new way, he has taught this day with a new kind of authority over the unclean spirits. Those who witnessed this are amazed. They are also looking for some way to make sense of what they have experienced. Mark says they ask: “What is this?”
1. Do you believe in the existence of spirits, good or evil?
2. How do you think about the spiritual world? How much interaction do you think there is between “your world” and the “spiritual world”?
3. When you think of Jesus as a teacher, what are some of the great moments of Jesus the teacher?
4. When you think of Jesus revealing his authority, what are the moments you recall? What does it mean for you that Jesus taught with authority?
5. Where do you encounter people today who teach with authority? What is it about them that give their teaching authority?
6. Where do you find examples of people who confront evil and at the same time restore the honor of the individual so that they are free to participate in the life of the community?
7. What does it say to you that Mark frames this text as Jesus teaching, but Mark does not record any instruction that he gave, either to the people gathered in the synagogue or to the new disciples?
8. Are there parts of your life that are unclean, continuing to have power over you even though you go to church, pray, and seek the support of others? Does this text give you insights into your life and your relationship with God?
9. How is it that you teach about the power of good or evil in your own life?
Reflection questions are written by Fr. Paul Gallagher, OFM.
They are edited by Sister Anne Marie Lom, OSF and Joe Thiel.
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A Spanish translation of the reflection questions is made possible by Fernando Alessandrini.
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