Homily – January 2021
ARCHBISHOP CHRISTOPHER PROWSE
CATHOLIC ARCHBISHOP OF CANBERRA AND GOULBURN
ST CHRISTOPHER’S CATHEDRAL
31 JANUARY 2021
FOURTH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME (YEAR B)
AND MASS ONLINE
Readings Dt 18:15-20 1 Cor 7:32-35 Gospel Mark 1: 21-28
So now we systematically begin our reflection of Mark’s Gospel in this Liturgical year to which it is dedicated.
Whereas Matthew’s Gospel of last year was focused largely on the Jewish community of the time of Matthew, St Mark’s Gospel is focused chiefly on encouraging the persecuted early Christians.
Today begins the first teaching of Jesus in Mark’s Gospel. We see his amazing presence has various responses from those hearing his liberating message. Three groups – those in the Synagogue, the followers of Jesus, and the Demons, all seem to have one thing in common regarding the Lord’s teaching. They make it quite clear that Jesus speaks with great authority and power. These words, “Authority” and “Power”, don’t have such a great resonance in an Australian world. All you need do is ask any parent, Priest or Bishop about that!
But, in the world of the Scriptures authority and power, when it refers to God, does not refer to anything controlling or coercive. Rather, it refers to the compelling and freeing message that the teaching of Jesus evokes in those who listen attentively.
The first group that makes a response to Jesus’ preaching and teaching with authority and power are those who are in the Synagogue. They respond to Jesus’ spoken authority. Their responses are rather cerebral as they are just getting to know Jesus. They are deeply impressed.
The Gospel today says that Jesus’ words made “a deep impression on them.” They say, “Here is a teaching that is new.”
Jesus receives from them high praise and is deserving of their acclamations.
In this first stage of getting to “know Jesus” they are on the way. However, they almost seem like armchair adjudicators with a somewhat patronising tone. Ultimately Christianity is not about earning or deserving but is more about believing and receiving. Their path towards conversion to Jesus is blinded. They are unable to see any links in the passages from the Old Testament that would indicate that what Jesus is preaching is actually in fulfilment of the prophecies of the Old Testament. The First Reading today comments on one of those prophecies given from Moses when he said to the people, “Your God will raise up for you a prophet like myself, from among yourselves.” At this stage, such a linkage does not seem present.
The second group that is listening to Jesus’ teaching in Mark’s Gospel of today are simply described as “His followers.” Over the last couple of Sundays we have learnt how they have been called by Jesus and how compelling, not so much in His spoken authority but His unspoken authority has been on them. Quickly they learn not just to know Jesus but, on a deeper level, to “LOVE JESUS.” Their heart response causes them to not only change their routines but leave everything and follow Jesus upon His calling.
Their presence now indicates that Jesus is not alone in His Ministry. He has gathered around His followers. We believe that is happening right now, Jesus is gathered with His Church in the proclamation of His message amongst us today. But they are, nonetheless, His followers. They walk behind Him as any disciples of a revered Rabbi would. Let us get caught up in this heart and unspoken authority of Jesus right now. I recall the famous words of St Teresa of Avila when she said, “See God looking at you, and loving you.”
This great love of Jesus has practical implications for their everyday lives. St Paul, in the Second Reading from 1 Corinthians draws out some of these implications for Marriage and Family life. But above all else following Christ has the noble aim, as St Paul would describe it when he says, “I would like to see you free from all worry…that you give your undivided attention to the Lord.”
The third participants in the Lord’s teaching with authority and power, are strangely, the Demons.
They help us in a negative way to understand who Jesus is. In the Ancient Biblical world Demons would seem to be omnipresent.
Today our medical and scientific world explains away a lot of the Demons of these Ancient times.
We can appreciate this thankfully. However let us not move too fast in exorcising all Demons from the world! Demons and Evil in the world are still very much present but as we know, our faith tells us that in the Death and Resurrection of Jesus the Devils are defeated foes.
But, examining the text of today’s Gospel we find that the central theme of God’s teaching is about the Kingdom of God. The only ones that seem to really understand the implication of that, in a negative way, is the Demon that has possessed a man in the Synagogue. This unclean spirit shouts at Jesus and proclaims that which others are yet to appreciate. The unclean spirit says, “I know who you are: the Holy One of God.” The darkness knows when the dawn is coming! Light and darkness are the great contrast. Jesus exorcises this man and the Devil leaves him when Jesus simply dismisses him and tells the Devil to, “Be quiet! Come out of him!”
As we now return from our holidays and move into 2021, in this strange Covid-19 world, we do this understanding that we too are at different stages with God.
We want to “know Jesus”, but this is not enough. We want to “love Jesus”, but again this is not enough. What we really want to do is “love Jesus truly.”
Remember again why St Mark wrote the Gospel. It was to encourage the persecuted Christians of the early Church. Those being persecuted “loved Jesus truly”, even to the point of death through persecution. As Jesus continues to enable the in-breaking of the Kingdom of God to come into the darkness of our Covid-19 world, let us open our hearts to the Lord truly and allow His eternal dawn to expel the darkness of the night. We do this particularly as we approach the Lenten Season in a few weeks.
In the meantime as we continue with our Eucharist, let us call upon our loving God to “lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil.” Let us call upon the Blood of the Risen Christ to pour itself upon us and to cleanse us from all evil. St Michael the Archangel pray for us!