Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time (1 February)

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Into the synagogue in Capernaum that day came Jesus to teach, and some people to listen. We can assume that some there had heard a little bit about him, the baptism scene, the calling of followers. Whatever the buzz may have been, it was probably well worth going to the synagogue that day to hear for themselves. Those who showed up for the most part were not disappointed. His word had authority. It meant something. While we do not know the content of his word, we do know that it fell upon the ears and the hearts of the listeners as bearing a wisdom and a force that they were not used to. This was not ‘Sabbath in the synagogue’ as usual, such as the scribes and Pharisees might conduct. This teaching of Jesus amazed and exited them.

However, there was one sitting there in their midst that day who was not so excited and awe struck. He had an unclean spirit. Perhaps that was a spirit resistant to the message of Jesus, a spirit opposed to the new teaching. He called out a question which we might all ponder and with which we might have wrestled, at some time, deep in our own souls. “What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us?”

Jesus didn’t respond in words. However, his actions showed that he had everything to do with this man and the spirit that ruled him, and yes, indeed, he had come to destroy it. He commanded the spirit to leave them man, and there was a great struggle and convulsion in the departure.

We know the Word of God is a two-edged sword. Where Jesus takes over our lives there must be a necessary destruction. In our many Christian denominations around the world we offer great lip service of praise and worship and kindly deeds. But do we dare allow that Word to slice through our social structures, our dearly held beliefs and customs, our acceptance of the economic systems that govern and destroy our planet and its people? Do we dare allow the Word to destroy the unclean spirits which sometimes govern our own lives? Perhaps, we fear the ensuing struggle and convulsions at their departure.

While the people may have been amazed and wondering what kind of teaching they had heard and who this person was, the unclean spirit(s) recognized the teacher both as Jesus of Nazareth and the Holy One of God. The man with the unclean spirit engaged with Jesus, and put out there the hard question for his own life. Jesus responded to him, giving him a new life, but not without a struggle for the man.

Jesus as Beggar Sculpture (2)“What have you to do with me, Jesus of Nazareth?” Jessica Powers gives us some insights into the struggle with this question in her poem The Master Beggar.

“Worse than the poorest mendicant alive,

the pencil man, the blind man with his breath

of music shaming all who do not give,

are You to me, Jesus of Nazareth.


Must You take up Your post on every block

Of every street? Do I have no release?

Is there no room of earth that I can lock

to your sad face, Your pitiful whisper ‘Please’?”


Elizabeth Ferguson, OP

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