Lectio Divina for 4th Sunday in Ordinary Time, January 31, 2021
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.
“The people were astonished at his teaching”
Do you imagine that Jesus just laid down the law when he taught, and that’s what astonished people? As with the teachings that are recorded throughout the Gospels, it was the way in which his words spoke to the hearts and souls of the people in his audience, the way he conveyed truths they always knew but couldn’t find teachers wise enough to share them. That was what astonished people. An important theme in this Gospel passage is authority. It’s a concept that is often given a negative connotation in our society. Rebellion against authority seems to be a commended theme, at least for the past few generations, dating back at least to the counterculture movement of the 1960s. But what do you think came first? A rebellion toward authority, or a lack of leaders who spoke with true authority? In order for someone of authority to truly be respected, he or she has to lead by example. As Pope St. Paul VI said, “Modern man listens more willingly to witnesses than to teachers, and if he does listen to teachers, it is because they are witnesses." Jesus was able to speak with authority because he backed up his teaching with his actions and with the way he witnessed to the coming of the kingdom of God. He acted in a way that made people believe what he was saying.
“I know who you are—the Holy One of God!”
How many times have we failed to acknowledge this foundational truth regarding Jesus, a truth that even a demon was wise enough to acknowledge? The devil would be foolish to deny Christ’s divinity, but he still is determined to fool us into denying it. The father of lies wants us to deny the truth God has revealed to us. He wants us to forget the ways God has spoken to our hearts, to forget the Scripture passages that showed us the truth. It has been said by those seeking to deny the divinity of Christ that Christ himself never actually called himself God. Such deniers fail to understand the historic context of Scripture verses like this one. By “Holy One of God” the demon is referring to the prophecies from all the prophets through whom God promised a savior. Christ is the Holy One God promised, the one who will redeem us from our sins--something only God is capable of doing. If anyone is going to deny the divinity of Christ when given the opportunity, it’s going to be the demons. But even the demons can’t deny the truth of Christ’s divinity when confronted by truth himself.
“Quiet! Come out of him!”
Jesus’ blunt rebuke is not just an exorcism of this particular demon. We all have demons, and Christ wants to call them all out of us. This is the essence of conversion. Some of our demons are really deep within us. Some of them are going to resist coming out; for some we will even personally resist letting Christ pull them out. There are many kinds of demons just as there are different circles of hell. They all are fixed upon the demise of our souls, but some set about achieving that end through more subtle means than others. Don’t be deceived into thinking that just because we are not “possessed” as the poor man in this Gospel passage is, that we don’t have our own demons living within us. Christ and his apostles are on a serious mission to baptize people in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, which is a sort of exorcism in itself. The Christian life, make no mistake, is about the expulsion of the demons in all of us. To become free of them is to become that new creation in Christ he talks about, and to experience true freedom. Christ, as always, doesn’t waste a word. How often, in our own spiritual pursuits, do we babble on thinking God will hear us better if we just explain ourselves better. That’s just a mild version of the demon’s words in this passage. He is trying to use his own reasoning to explain away Christ’s power, and in a roundabout way pardon his own guilt by blaming Jesus for wanting to “destroy us”. The demon’s words do not lack truth, but they do have ill intent because the demon aims to prevent the soul of the possessed man from entering into new life in Christ. This is parallel to how we often resist God when he is calling us to a new life, especially when acquiring that new life requires that we let go of some deep-seated attachment.
“A new teaching with authority.”
Throughout his ministry, Jesus asserts his authority which is given to him by his father in heaven. He says to his disciples, “As the father sends me, so I send you.” Whenever we say “In the name of the Father …” and make the Sign of the Cross, we are also invoking that authority. It’s no small matter, and that’s why using the Lord’s name in vain is a sin. The power that comes with God’s name is not to be used lightly. Even when we are simply praying grace before meals, it’s important to truly center ourselves and bring to mind the power of the one we are thanking. Christ said to his apostles, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations” (Matthew 28:18-19). Do we acknowledge the power of such authority when we call upon his name and spread the gospel ourselves?
Lord Jesus, we are astonished by your teaching because of the light it sheds upon our lives, guiding the way to eternal life. Give us the courage to not deny you in the midst of adversity, but to rely all the more on you. Expel whatever demons dwell within us so we may draw closer to you with no impediments. We believe all power has been given to you, and that our lives are brought to fulfillment only when we give them fully to you. Today we do just that. In Jesus’ name. Amen
Connected to the source of all power and life, his grace can flow to us and through us. Open your hearts to that grace, as you contemplate what he has to say to you in this particular time of your life.
David Kilby is a freelance writer from New Jersey and editor of Catholic World Report.
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