The Gospel readings for Sunday liturgies follow a three-year cycle for Ordinary Time. This year, we are hearing readings proclaimed primarily from The Gospel of St. Mark.
Last week we heard the first of these readings for this year. In that reading, Jesus opened his public ministry with the proclamation, “Repent, the kingdom of God is at hand.”
Immediately following this proclamation, Jesus begins to call disciples to follow him. Peter and Andrew are called first, then James and John, the sons of Zebedee. It is important to note that at the very inauguration of his public ministry, after the short announcement of the kingdom, Jesus invites people to become disciples.
A new relationship has begun in their lives. As students, the disciples will learn from Jesus. Though elements of the interaction might reflect that of a student-teacher or an apprentice-master association, the relationship will entail much more. In The Gospel of St. John, Jesus will refer to this relationship in terms of friendship – “I no longer call you slaves, because a slave does not know what his master is doing. I have called you friends, because I have told you everything I have heard from my Father” (John 15:15).
Peter, Andrew, James and John, who will later be designated “apostles,” may be seen as representing all those who follow Jesus as disciples in all times and places. As we hear the Gospel proclaimed anew, we have the opportunity to respond as they and all other disciples did, and follow. The opportunity presents itself for us to enliven our discipleship by deepening our relationship with Jesus. We can come to experience the depth of his love and to respond to that love with lives changed for the better.
In today’s Gospel passage, we encounter Jesus teaching in the synagogue. The people gathered to hear him are “astonished” at his teaching for, as St. Mark tells us, “he taught them as one having authority and not as the scribes.”
Here Jesus follows in the great line of Old Testament figures. In a particular way, he comes to us as the new Moses. He is the one who represents God (who, as Jesus will later tell us, is his father and our father). In this sense, he is the fulfillment of the promise God made to Moses recalled in the first reading from the Book of Deuteronomy: “I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their kin, and will put my words into his mouth; he shall tell them all that I command him” (Deuteronomy 18:18).
We will later see that although he follows in the footsteps of Moses and the prophets, Jesus is much more. We get a glimpse of this when an unclean spirit calls out, “I know who you are – the Holy One of God!” For now, however, it is good to allow ourselves to be amazed and astonished at who he is as a teacher, preacher and healer. His teaching comes from the heart, but his authority comes from a relationship – his relationship with his father.
As the story progresses, Jesus encounters the man with an unclean spirit. We soon learn that his words not only captivate through their teaching and preaching, but they also have a power in them to heal. At Jesus’ command, the unclean spirit is told to leave the man, and he does.
Jesus can heal. Jesus can deliver. Jesus can save.
Walking along with Jesus as his disciples, we have the opportunity to see this anew as we hear it proclaimed. We, like those original witnesses, can be amazed and say, “A new teaching with authority. He commands even the unclean spirits and they obey him.”
We also have the opportunity to recognize in Jesus the one who can heal, deliver and save. Most people have challenges in life — worries, anxieties or difficulties from which they seek to be released. Is it an illness? Is it a grudge? Is it an addiction? Is it job stress? Is it despair? Is it lethargy? Is it a relationship built on violence? Is it poverty? Is it bigotry? Is it doubt? Is it anguish over children and their future? Is it failed expectations?
What ever “it” is, Jesus is the one who can deliver us from it. He is the one who heals, delivers and saves.
Encountering Jesus anew is part of the dynamic relationship to which he invites us as disciples. There is always room for growth. There are always opportunities to encounter him and to respond to his call.
This call is an invitation to life – life in its fullness. As we hear his word this Sunday, and as we go through the week ahead, perhaps the word of the responsorial psalm can be our mantra: “If today you hear his voice, harden not your hearts.”
Msgr. Joseph Prior is pastor of Our Lady of Grace Parish, Penndel, and a former professor of Sacred Scripture and rector of St. Charles Borromeo Seminary.