Lectio Divina: 4th Sunday of Ordinary Time (B)
Jesus teaches and heals people
The first impression of the Good News of Jesus on the people
1. Opening prayer
Lord Jesus, send Your Spirit to help us to read the Scriptures with the same mind that You read them to the disciples on the way to Emmaus. In the light of the Word, written in the Bible, You helped them to discover the presence of God in the disturbing events of Your sentence and death. Thus, the cross that seemed to be the end of all hope became for them the source of life and of resurrection.
Create in us silence so that we may listen to Your voice in Creation and in the Scriptures, in events and in people, above all in the poor and suffering. May Your word guide us so that we, too, like the two disciples from Emmaus, may experience the force of Your resurrection and witness to others that You are alive in our midst as source of fraternity, justice and peace. We ask this of You, Jesus, Who revealed to us the Father and sent us Your Spirit. Amen.
a) A key to the reading:
The Gospel text of this fourth Sunday of Ordinary Time speaks of the amazement of the people who see Jesus passing on His teaching (Mk 1:21-22), then presents the first miracle of the casting out of a devil (Mk 1:23-26) and finally speaks again of the amazement of the people who hear the teaching of Jesus about His power to cast out devils (Mk 1:27-28).
In the 70’s, the time when Mark is writing, the community of Rome needed some guidance as to how to proclaim the Good News of God to people who lived under the oppression of the fear of evil spirits because of the arbitrary imposition of religious laws by the Roman Empire. In describing Jesus’ activity, Mark showed how the communities were to proclaim the Good News. The Evangelists catechized by telling the facts and events of Jesus’ life.
The text on which we are to meditate shows the impact of the Good News of Jesus on the people of His time. As we read, let us try to pay attention to the following: Which activities of Jesus most gave rise to the amazement of the people?
b) A division of the text to help with the reading:
Mark 1:21-22: The people, in amazement at the teaching of Jesus, begin to develop a critical awareness.
Mark 1:23-24: The reaction of a man possessed by the devil in the presence of Jesus in the Synagogue.
Mark 1:25-26: Jesus conquers and drives the devil away.
Mark 1:27-28: Again, the impact of the Good News of Jesus on the people.
Then they came to Capernaum, and on the sabbath Jesus entered the synagogue and taught. The people were astonished at his teaching, for he taught them as one having authority and not as the scribes. In their synagogue was a man with an unclean spirit; 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!" Jesus rebuked him and said, "Quiet! Come out of him!" The unclean spirit convulsed him and with a loud cry came out of him. 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." His fame spread everywhere throughout the whole region of Galilee.
3. A moment of prayerful silence
so that the Word of God may penetrate and enlighten our life.
4. Some questions
to help us in our personal reflection.
a) What part of the text did you like best?
b) What caused most amazement on the part of the people in Jesus’ time?
c) What drove the people to see the difference between Jesus and the doctors of the time?
d) Devils have no power over Jesus. What impression does this make on the people?
e) Does the reality of our community produce amazement among people? How?
5. For those who wish to go deeper into the theme
a) The context of the times and of today:
This Sunday we meditate on the description in Mark’s Gospel of the first miracle of Jesus. Not all the Evangelists tell the facts of Jesus’ life in the same way. Each of them took into account the communities for whom he was writing, each stressed some points and aspects of the life, activities, and teachings of Jesus that could help their readers more. Matthew’s readers lived in the north of Palestine and in Syria, Luke’s lived in Greece, John’s in Asia Minor, and Mark’s probably in Italy. A concrete example of this diversity is the way each of the four represents Jesus’ first miracle. In John’s Gospel the first miracle is at the wedding feast in Cana of Galilee, where Jesus transforms the water into wine (Jn 2:1-11). For Luke, the first miracle is the tranquility with which Jesus frees himself from the threat of death on the part of the people of Nazareth (Lk 4:29-30). For Matthew, it is the healing of a large number of sick and possessed (Mt 4:23) or, more specifically, the healing of a leper (Mt 8:1-4). For Mark, the first miracle is the casting out of a devil (Mk 1:23-26). Thus, each Evangelist, in his own way of telling the facts, stresses what are, according to him, the most important points in the activities and teachings of Jesus. Each one of them has a concern that he tries to transmit to his readers and to the communities. Today we live in a place and an era quite different from those of Jesus and the Evangelists. What for us is the greatest concern today in living out the Gospel? It is worthwhile that each of us should ask him or herself, “What, for me is the greatest concern?”
b) A commentary on the text:
Mark 1:21-22: Amazed at Jesus’ teaching, the people form a critical conscience in themselves.
The first thing that Jesus did at the beginning of His missionary activities was to call four people to form a community together with Him (Mk 1:16-20). The first thing the people see in Jesus is the different way He teaches and speaks of the Kingdom of God. It is not so much the content, but rather His way of teaching that is striking. The effect of this different way of teaching was the critical conscience formed in the people in relation to the religious authorities of the time. The people saw, compared, and said, “He teaches with authority, unlike the scribes.” The scribes taught the people by quoting from the doctors and the authorities. Jesus did not quote any doctor, but spoke from His experience of God and of life. His authority came from inside of Him. His word was rooted in the heart and in the witness of His life and his divinty.
Mark 1:23-26: Jesus fights the power of evil
In Mark, the first miracle is the casting out of a devil. The power of evil took hold of people and alienated them from themselves. People were crushed by fear of devils and by the action of unclean spirits. Today, the fear of devils is great and on the increase. We see it in the interest in films on the exorcism of devils. As in the times of the Roman Empire, many people live alienated from themselves because of the power of mass communication, advertising and commerce. People are slaves to consumerism, oppressed by bills to pay by a certain date, and the threat of creditors. Many think that they are not worthy of respect if they do not buy what advertisements tell them to buy. In Mark, the first sign of Jesus is that of fighting evil. Jesus restores people to themselves. He restores their conscience and freedom. Could our faith in Jesus succeed in fighting these devils that alienate us from ourselves and from the reality of God?
Mark 1:27-28: People’s reaction: the first impression.
The first two signs of the Good News of God that people see in Jesus are: His different way of teaching the things of God and His power over unclean spirits. Jesus opens a new way of purity for people. In those days anyone declared impure could not come before God to pray or receive the blessing of God promised to Abraham. He had to purify himself first. There were many laws concerning the purification of people and ritual norms that made life difficult for people. These marginalized many people who were considered impure. For instance, washing one’s arm to the elbow, sprinkling oneself, washing metal glasses, cups, jars, etc. (cf. Mk 7:1-5). Now, purified by faith in Jesus, the impure could once more prostrate themselves in the presence of God and no longer needed to observe the ritual norms. The Good News of the Kingdom of God proclaimed by Jesus must have been a relief for people and a cause of great joy and tranquility.
Further information: casting out devils and the fear of people
* The explanation of the evils of life
In Jesus’ days, many people spoke of Satan and the casting out of devils. There was much fear and some took advantage of this fear in others. The power of evil had many names: demon, devil, Beelzebub, prince of devils, Satan, Dragon, Dominations, Powers, Authority, Sovereignty, etc. (cf. Mk 3:22-23; Mt 4:1; Rev 12:9; Rom 8:38; Eph 1:21).
Today, when people cannot explain a phenomenon, problem, or pain, they sometimes take recourse in explanations and remedies from tradition or ancient cultures and they say, “ It is the evil eye, it is the punishment of God, it is some evil spirit.” There are those who seek to silence these devils through magic and loud prayers. Others seek an exorcist to cast out the impure spirit. Others still, urged by the new and sadistic culture of today, fight the power of evil in other ways. They seek to understand the cause of evil.
In Jesus’ day, the manner of explaining and solving the evils in life was similar to the explanations given by our ancient traditions and culture. In those days, as we read in the Bible, the word devil or Satan often pointed to the power of evil that led people astray from the right path. For instance, during the forty days in the desert, Jesus was tempted by Satan who tried to lead Him by a different path (1:12; cf. Lk 4:1-13). On other occasions, the same word pointed to a person who led another by a wrong path. Thus, when Peter sought to divert Jesus’ path, he was Satan for Jesus: “Get behind Me Satan! Because the way you think is not God’s way but man’s.” (Mk 8:33). At other times, these same words were used to indicate the political power of the Roman Empire that oppressed and exploited people. For instance, in the Apocalypse, the Roman Empire is identified with “the great dragon, the primeval serpent, known as the devil or Satan, who had deceived the whole world” (Rev 12:9). In Mark’s Gospel, this same Roman Empire is given the name of Legion, a name given to the devil who ill-treated people (Mk 5:9). At other times, the people used the words devil or spirit to indicate aches and pains. Thus people talked about the devil of the dumb spirit (Mk 9:17), of the deaf spirit (Mk 9:25), the devil of the impure spirit (Mk 1:23; 3:11), etc. And there were exorcists who cast out these devils (cf. Mk 9:38; Mt 12:27).
All this shows the great fear people had of the power of evil, which they called devil or Satan. When Mark was writing his Gospel, this fear was on the increase. Some Eastern religions were spreading the cult of spirits, who acted as intermediaries between God and humanity, considered as devils, demiurges or demigods. These cults taught that some of our gestures could irritate the spirits, and they, to wreak vengeance, could prevent our access to God, and thus deprive us of divine benefits. So, through magic rites, loud prayers and complicated ceremonies, people tried to invoke and calm these spirits or demons, so that they would not bring harm to human life. This was the form that some religions had devised in order to defend themselves from the influence of the spirits of evil. And this way of living one’s relationship with God, rather than freeing people, bred in them fear and anxiety.
* Faith in the resurrection and the victory over fear
Now, one of the objectives of the Good News of Jesus was to help people free themselves of this fear. The coming of the Kingdom of God meant the coming of a superior power. Mark’s Gospel says, “But no one can make his way into a strong man’s house and take his property unless he has tied up the strong man first. Only then can he rob his house.” (Mk 3:27). The strong man is a figure of the power of evil that keeps people chained to fear. Jesus is the stronger man who comes to chain Satan, the power of evil, and to snatch from him this humanity chained to fear. “If it is through the finger of God that I cast out devils, then know that the kingdom of God has overtaken you!” (Lk 11:20) This is what the writings of the New Testament insist on, especially the Gospel of Mark: the victory of Jesus over the power of evil, over the demon, over Satan, over sin and death.
As we have seen, in this Sunday’s reading in Mark’s Gospel, the first miracle of Jesus is that of the casting out the devil: “Be quiet! Come out of him!” (Mk 1:25). The first impression Jesus makes on the people is produced by the casting out of the devils: “He gives orders even to unclean spirits and they obey Him!” (Mk 1:27). One of the main reasons for the discussion between Jesus and the scribes is the casting out of devils. They accused Him saying: “Beelzebub is in Him…It is through the prince of devils that He casts devils out!” (Mk 3:22). The first power given to the apostles when they were sent on a mission was the power to cast out devils: “…giving them the authority over unclean spirits” (Mk 6:7). The first sign that goes with the proclamation of the resurrection is that of casting out devils: “These are the signs that will be associated with believers: in My name they will cast out devils” (Mk 16:17).
The casting out of devils was what impressed people most (Mk 1:27). It went to the very heart of the Good News of the Kingdom. By means of it, Jesus restored people to themselves. He gave them back common sense and a conscience (Mk 5:15). From beginning to end, in almost the same words, the Gospel of Mark repeats unceasingly the same message: “Jesus casts out devils!” (Mk 1:26.34,39; 3:11-12,30; 5:1-20; 6:7,13; 7:25-29; 9:25-27,38; 16:17). It seems to be an endless refrain. Today, however, rather than use the same words all the time, we use different words to send out the same message. We would say, “Jesus conquered, chained, dominated, destroyed, beat, eliminated, exterminated annihilated and killed the power of evil, Satan who frightens so many people!” What Mark wants to say to us is this: “Christians are not allowed to be afraid of Satan!” By His resurrection and by His liberating action present among us, Jesus chains the fear of Satan and gives birth to freedom of heart, determination, and hope on the horizon! We must walk along the Path of Jesus with the taste of victory over the power of evil!
6. A prayer with Psalm 46 (45)
God, revealed in Jesus, is our strength!
God is both refuge and strength for us,
a help always ready in trouble;
so we shall not be afraid though the earth be in turmoil,
though mountains tumble into the depths of the sea,
and its waters roar and seethe,
and the mountains totter as it heaves.
There is a river whose streams bring joy to God's city;
it sanctifies the dwelling of the Most High.
God is in the city, it cannot fall;
at break of day God comes to its rescue.
Nations are in uproar,
kingdoms are tumbling,
when He raises His voice the earth crumbles away.
Yahweh Sabaoth is with us,
our citadel, the God of Jacob.
Come, consider the wonders of Yahweh,
the astounding deeds He has done on the earth;
He puts an end to wars over the whole wide world,
He breaks the bow, He snaps the spear,
shields He burns in the fire.
“Be still and acknowledge that I am God,
supreme over nations, supreme over the world.”
Yahweh Sabaoth is with us,
our citadel, the God of Jacob.
7. Final Prayer
Lord Jesus, we thank You for the word that has enabled us to understand better the will of the Father. May Your Spirit enlighten our actions and grant us the strength to practice that which Your Word has revealed to us. May we, like Mary, Your mother, not only listen to but also practice the Word. You who live and reign with the Father in the unity of the Holy Spirit forever and ever. Amen.