Fourth Sunday of Ordinary Time – Year B

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Michael F. Di Gregorio, O.S.A.
Prior Provincial
Province of St. Thomas of Villanova

Readings
Dt 18:15-20
Ps 95:1-2, 6-7, 7-9
1 Cor 7:32-35
Mk 1:21-28

It’s an extraordinary teacher who can hold his or her students spellbound. Yet that is what Mark, in today’s Gospel, tells us that Jesus did as he began to teach in the synagogue this certain day. The people’s attention was riveted on him, Mark says, because this young rabbi, the carpenter from Nazareth, taught with authority – that is, he did not simply repeat what other rabbis had been saying before him down through history, rather he spoke a message that was from his heart and that others recognized as true.

We have a saying “that words are cheap.” Perhaps some of those listening to Jesus in the synagogue that day began to think that also. Perhaps the man with the unclean spirit who was there began to think that. “What do you want of us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us?” And, in fact, he had. “Come out of the man,” he said to the demons, and they did. And once again the people remark about Jesus’ authority. It is not simply a matter of words with him. “He gives orders to unclean spirits and they obey him!”

Saint Thomas of Villanova once said, “There is truth in a person when the tongue agrees with the heart, and the deed agrees with the tongue” (Sermon, 5th Sunday after Pentecost, 2,4). The authority of Jesus rests in the fact that he is a person of authenticity. He is genuine. In so many words he told us, “I am the truth.” The credibility of the word of Jesus over two thousand years is evidenced in that his word continues to speak to our hearts and the hearts of untold numbers of people.

Jesus is also the prophet proclaimed by Moses in the first reading today. In popular language a prophet is often thought of as someone who can predict the future, but in our religious tradition a prophet is a person who announces God’s message and instruction for life at the present moment. And what God wanted the people to hear that day in the synagogue – as demonstrated in the healing of the man who was possessed – is that Jesus had come to cast out whatever impedes life and prevents us from enjoying our dignity as sons and daughters of God. Jesus has come to make us whole again, as he demonstrated over and over again with the lepers and the crippled, with sinners and the sorrowful.

In our day the Church is called to continue the prophetic ministry of Jesus, speaking and acting, in truth, in his name, casting out the unclean spirits of war and injustice, hatred, violence and alienation and so many others that continue to impede the fullness of life that is God’s desire for all his people. And we are that Church! We who hear this Gospel of Jesus today and recognize in him the truth, we who will stand each Sunday to say publicly what we believe, we who come forward to be nourished again with the Bread of our encouragement, we also must strive to be people of authenticity in whom the tongue agrees with the heart and the deed agrees with the tongue.