FOURTH WEEK IN ORDINARY TIME
Jesus Rebukes the Unclean Spirit
Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B
Jesus rebuked him and said, “Quiet! Come out of him!” The unclean spirit convulsed him and with a loud cry came out of him. Mark 1:25–26
This passage from Mark’s Gospel could be the scene from a horror movie. Well, at least if Hollywood were producing the film. In truth, it’s the scene of an act of great love and mercy and reveals the power and authority of Jesus!
It’s the story of a man with an unclean spirit, a demon. The demon is tormenting him. So, Jesus looks at the man with great love and compassion and expels the evil spirit, setting him free. This truly is an act of love.
But one question this clearly brings up is the role of the evil spirits in our world and their ability to control, manipulate or, at least, tempt us. They are powerful spiritual beings created by God with free will, and they exercised that free will to turn away from God. One of their primary duties, granted them at the moment of their creation, was to care for humanity. Those spirits who fell from grace by their pride and sin still retain their natural spiritual power. But because of their fall, they now only have hatred for mankind and seek to destroy us. This is real. And this is something we should be keenly aware of.
But there is no reason to lose hope or to give in to fear. These beings are, of course, ultimately subject to the power and authority of God. They can do nothing without God permitting it—and, in the end, they can have no power over our lives.
But for now, we need to be aware of their natural spiritual power and influence. We need to understand that they can and will try to wreak havoc in our lives. When we let fear weaken our faith, and lack trust in God’s almighty power, we slowly allow them to have more influence over us. But when we allow the grace and mercy of God to overshadow their evil influence, we hear Jesus rebuke them and order them to cease.
Reflect, today, upon the fact that the spiritual battle is a real one. However, the victory is assured if we only humble ourselves before God and trust in His power and authority. Humility is the key to this spiritual battle. It’s the key to overcoming the attacks and temptations of the evil one. So, humble yourself before God when you feel oppressed or tempted. Humble yourself by admitting your weaknesses. Acknowledge that only God has the authority to strengthen you. Put your trust in Him. He will not let you down!
Lord, I am weak and nothing without You. Help me to know and believe that. Help me to humble myself before You and to be strengthened in that humility to overcome the temptations and influences of the evil one. Jesus, I trust in You!
Never Give Up on Another
Monday of the Fourth Week in Ordinary Time
“What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I adjure you by God, do not torment me!” (He had been saying to him, “Unclean spirit, come out of the man!”) He asked him, “What is your name?” He replied, “Legion is my name. There are many of us.” Mark 5:7–9
To most people, such an encounter would be terrifying. This man whose words are recorded above was possessed by a multitude of demons. He lived on the hillsides among various caves by the sea, and no one wanted to go near him. He was a violent man, crying out day and night, and all the townspeople were fearful of him. But when this man saw Jesus at a distance, something amazing happened. Instead of Jesus being terrified of the man, the multitude of demons possessing the man became terrified of Jesus. Jesus then commanded the many demons to leave the man and enter a herd of about two thousand swine instead. The swine immediately ran down the hill into the sea and drowned. The possessed man returned to normal, becoming clothed and in his right mind. All who saw him were amazed.
Clearly, this brief summary of the story does not adequately explain the terror, trauma, confusion, suffering, etc., that this man endured during the years of his diabolical possession. And it does not adequately explain the grave suffering of this man’s family and friends, as well as the disorder caused to the local townspeople as a result of his possession. Thus, to better understand this story, it is useful to contrast the before-and-after experience of all involved. It was very difficult for everyone to comprehend how this man could go from being possessed and out of his mind to calm and rational. For that reason, Jesus told the man to “Go home to your family and announce to them all that the Lord in his pity has done for you.” Imagine the mix of joy, confusion and disbelief that his family would have experienced.
If Jesus could transform the life of this man who was completely possessed by a Legion of demons, then no one is ever without hope. Too often, especially within our families and among old friends, there are those whom we have written off as irredeemable. There are those who have gone so far astray that they seem hopeless. But one thing this story tells us is that hope is never lost for anyone—not even those completely possessed by a multitude of demons.
Reflect, today, upon anyone in your life whom you have written off. Perhaps they have hurt you over and over. Or perhaps they have chosen a life of grave sin. Look at that person in the light of this Gospel and know that there is always hope. Be open to God acting through you in a profound and powerful way so that even the most seemingly irredeemable person you know will be given hope through you.
My most powerful Lord, I offer to You, this day, the person whom I call to mind who is most in need of Your redeeming grace. May I never lose hope in Your ability to transform their life, to forgive their sins and to bring them back to You. Use me, dear Lord, to be an instrument of Your mercy so that they will come to know You and experience the freedom You so deeply desire that they receive. Jesus, I trust in You.
The Culmination of a Life of Faith
February 2, Feast of the Presentation of the Lord
“Now, Master, you may let your servant go in peace, according to your word, for my eyes have seen your salvation, which you prepared in the sight of all the peoples: a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and glory for your people Israel.” Luke 2:29-32
At the time of Jesus’ birth, there was a man named Simeon who had spent his whole life preparing for one significant moment. Like all faithful Jews at the time, Simeon was waiting for the coming Messiah. The Holy Spirit had revealed to him that he would indeed see the Messiah before his death—and so this happened when Mary and Joseph brought Jesus into the Temple to offer Him to the Lord as an infant.
Try to imagine the scene. Simeon had lived a holy and devout life. And deep within his conscience, he knew that his life on earth would not come to an end until he was privileged to see the Savior of the World with his own eyes. He knew this by a special gift of faith, an interior revelation of the Holy Spirit, and he believed.
It’s helpful to think about this unique gift of knowledge that Simeon had throughout his life. Normally we gain knowledge through our five senses. We see something, hear something, taste, smell, or feel something, and as a result come to know it to be true. Physical knowledge is very reliable and is the normal way we come to know things. But this gift of knowledge Simeon had was different. It was deeper and was spiritual in nature. He knew he would see the Messiah before he died, not because of some external sensory perception he had received but because of an interior revelation from the Holy Spirit.
This truth begs the question, which type of knowledge is more certain? Something you see with your eyes, touch, smell, hear or taste? Or something that God speaks to you in the depths of your soul by a revelation of grace? Though these types of knowledge are different, it’s important to understand that the spiritual knowledge that is given by the Holy Spirit is far more certain than anything perceived through the five senses alone. This spiritual knowledge has the power to change your life and direct all your actions toward that revelation.
For Simeon, this interior knowledge of a spiritual nature suddenly united with his five senses when Jesus was brought into the Temple. Simeon suddenly saw, heard and felt this Child Whom he knew he would one day see with his own eyes and touch with his own hands. For Simeon, that moment was the culminating moment of his life.
Reflect, today, upon anything that our Lord has spoken to you in the depths of your soul. Too often we ignore His gentle voice as it speaks, preferring instead to live only in the sensory world. But the spiritual reality within us must become the center and foundation of our lives. It is there where God speaks, and it is there where we, too, will discover the central purpose and meaning of our lives.
My spiritual Lord, I thank You for the countless ways in which You speak to me day and night in the depths of my own soul. Help me to be always attentive to You and to Your gentle voice as You speak to me. May Your voice and Your voice alone become the guiding direction of my life. May I trust in Your Word and never waver from the mission You have given to me. Jesus, I trust in You.
Christ All Around Us
Wednesday of the Fourth Week in Ordinary Time
“Is he not the carpenter, the son of Mary, and the brother of James and Joseph and Judas and Simon? And are not his sisters here with us?” And they took offense at him. Mark 6:3
After traveling throughout the countryside performing miracles, teaching the crowds and gaining many followers, Jesus returned to Nazareth where He grew up. Perhaps His disciples were excited to return with Jesus to His native place thinking that His own townspeople would be overjoyed to see Jesus again because of the many stories of His miracles and authoritative teaching. But the disciples were soon to have quite a surprise.
After arriving in Nazareth, Jesus entered the Synagogue to teach, and He taught with an authority and wisdom that confounded the locals. They said among themselves, “Where did this man get all this? What kind of wisdom has been given him?” They were confused because they knew Jesus. He was the local carpenter who worked for years with His father who was a carpenter. He was Mary’s son, and they knew His other relatives by name.
The primary difficulty Jesus’ townspeople had was their familiarity with Jesus. They knew Him. They knew where He lived. They knew Him as He grew up. They knew His family. They knew all about Him. Therefore, they wondered how He could be anything special. How could He now teach with authority? How could He now do miracles? Thus, they were astonished, and they allowed that astonishment to turn into doubt, judgment and criticism.
The same temptation is something we all deal with more than we may realize. It is often easier to admire a stranger from afar than one whom we know well. When we hear of someone for the first time who is doing something admirable, it’s easy to join in that admiration. But when we hear good news about someone we know well, we can easily be tempted to jealousy or envy and to be skeptical and even critical. But the truth is that every saint has a family. And every family potentially has brothers and sisters, cousins and other relatives through whom God will do great things. This should not surprise us—it should inspire us! And we should rejoice when those close to us and with whom we are familiar are used powerfully by our good God.
Reflect, today, upon those whom you are familiar with in life, especially your own family. Examine whether or not you struggle with an ability to see beyond the surface and accept that God dwells within everyone. We must constantly seek to discover the presence of God all around us, especially in the lives of those whom we know very well.
My ever-present Lord, thank You for the countless ways in which You are present in the lives of those all around me. Give me the grace to see You and to love You in the lives of those closest to me. As I discover Your glorious presence in their lives, fill me with deep gratitude and help me to acknowledge Your love that comes forth from their lives. Jesus, I trust in You.
Relying Upon Divine Providence
Thursday of the Fourth Week in Ordinary Time
Jesus summoned the Twelve and began to send them out two by two and gave them authority over unclean spirits. He instructed them to take nothing for the journey but a walking stick—no food, no sack, no money in their belts. Mark 6:7–8
Why would Jesus instruct the Twelve to go forth to preach with authority but to take nothing with them on the journey? Most people who set out on a journey prepare ahead and make sure to pack what they need. Jesus’ instruction was not so much a lesson in relying upon others for basic needs as it was a lesson on reliance upon divine providence for their ministry.
The material world is good in and of itself. All creation is good. Therefore, there is nothing wrong with having possessions and using them for our good and for the good of those who have been entrusted to our care. But there are times when God wants us to rely more upon Him than upon ourselves. The story above is one of those situations.
By instructing the Twelve to go forth on their mission without bringing the basic necessities of life, Jesus was helping them to trust not only in His providence for those basic needs but also to trust that He would provide for them spiritually in their mission of preaching, teaching and healing. They were given great spiritual authority and responsibility and, for that reason, needed to rely upon the providence of God to a far greater extent than others. Thus, Jesus exhorts them to trust Him regarding their basic needs so that they will also be disposed to trust Him on this new spiritual mission.
The same is true in our lives. When God entrusts us with a mission to share the Gospel with another, He will often do so in a way that requires great trust on our part. He will send us forth “empty-handed,” so to speak, so that we will learn to rely upon His gentle guidance. Sharing the Gospel with another is an incredible privilege, and we must realize that we will be successful only if we rely wholeheartedly upon the providence of God.
Reflect, today, upon those to whom you sense God wants you to reach out to with the Gospel. How do you do this? The answer is quite simple. You do so only by relying upon the providence of God. Step out in faith, listen to His guiding voice every step of the way, and know that His providence is the only way that the Gospel message will be effectively shared.
My trustworthy Lord, I accept Your call to go forth and to share Your love and mercy with others. Help me to always rely upon You and Your providence for my mission in life. Use me as You will and help me to trust in Your guiding hand for the upbuilding of Your glorious Kingdom on earth. Jesus, I trust in You.
“Perplexed” by the Truth
Friday of the Fourth Week in Ordinary Time
Herod feared John, knowing him to be a righteous and holy man, and kept him in custody. When he heard him speak he was very much perplexed, yet he liked to listen to him. Mark 6:20
Ideally, when the Gospel is preached and received by another, the effect is that the receiver is filled with joy, consolation and a desire to change. The Gospel is transforming for those who truly listen and respond with generosity. But what about those who do not respond with generosity? What effect does the Gospel have upon them? Our Gospel today gives us that answer.
The line above comes from the story of the beheading of Saint John the Baptist. The bad actors in this story are Herod, Herod’s illegitimate wife Herodias, and Herodias’ daughter (traditionally named Salome). John had been imprisoned by Herod because John told Herod, “It is not lawful for you to have your brother’s wife.” But what’s most interesting about this story is that, even in prison, Herod would listen to John preach. But instead of leading Herod to conversion, he was left “perplexed” by what John preached.
Being “perplexed” was not the only reaction to John’s preaching. Herodias’ reaction was one of hatred. She appeared to be stung to the heart by John’s condemnation of her “marriage” to Herod, and it was she who then orchestrated John’s beheading.
This Gospel, then, teaches us of two other common reactions to the Truth of the holy Gospel when it is preached. One is hatred and another is confusion (being perplexed). Obviously, hatred is far worse than simply being perplexed. But neither is the right reaction to the words of Truth.
What is your reaction to the full Gospel when it is preached? Are there aspects of the Gospel that leave you uneasy? Are there teachings of our Lord that confuse you or lead you to anger? First look within your own heart to determine if you struggle with having a similar reaction as did Herod and Herodias. And then consider how the world reacts to the Truth of the Gospel. We should not be surprised at all that we find many Herods and Herodiases alive today.
Reflect, today, upon any ways that you see the Gospel being rejected on one level or another. If you sense this within your own heart, then repent with all your might. If you see it elsewhere, do not allow the hostility to shake you or concern you. Keep your mind and heart upon the Truth and remain steadfast no matter the reaction you encounter.
My Lord of all Truth, Your Word and Your Word alone brings grace and salvation. Please give me the grace I need to always listen to Your Word and to respond generously with all my heart. May I repent when I am convicted by Your Word and may I wholeheartedly return to You. Give me courage when others reject Your Truth and wisdom to know how to share that Word with love. Jesus, I trust in You.
Saturday of the Fourth Week in Ordinary Time
“Come away by yourselves to a deserted place and rest a while.” Mark 6:34
The Twelve had just returned from going about the countryside preaching the Gospel. They were tired. Jesus, in His compassion, invites them to come away with Him to rest for a while. So they get in a boat to cross over to a deserted place. But when the people hear about this, they hurry on foot to the place that their boat was heading. So, when the boat arrives, there is a crowd awaiting them.
Of course, Jesus does not get upset. He does not get discouraged by the burning desire of the people to be with Him and the Twelve. Instead, the Gospel relates that when Jesus saw them, “his heart was moved with pity,” and He began to teach them many things.
In our own lives, after serving others well, it’s understandable to desire rest. Even Jesus desired this for Himself and His Apostles. But the one thing that Jesus permitted to “interrupt” His rest was the clear desire of the people to be with Him and to be fed by His preaching. There is much to learn from this example of our Lord.
For example, there are many times when a parent may only want to be alone for a while, and yet family concerns arise that need their attention. Priests and religious may also have unexpected duties that arise from their ministry that can, at first, appear to interrupt their plans. The same can be said for any vocation or situation in life. We may think we need one thing, but then duty calls and we find we are needed in a different way.
One key to sharing in the apostolic mission of Christ, be it to our families, Church, communities or friends, is to be ready and willing to be generous with our time and energy. It’s true that prudence will dictate the need for rest at times, but at other times the call to charity will supersede what we perceive as a legitimate need for our own rest and relaxation. And when true charity is demanded of us, we will always find that our Lord gives us the needed grace to be generous with our time. It is often in those moments when our Lord chooses to use us in ways that are truly transforming for others.
Reflect, today, upon the true needs of those around you. Are there people who would greatly benefit from your time and attention today? Are there needs that others have that will require you to change your plans and to give of yourself in a way that is difficult? Do not hesitate to give generously of yourself to others. In fact, this form of charity is not only transforming for those whom we serve, it is often one of the most restful and rejuvenating activities we can also do for ourselves.
My generous Lord, You gave of Yourself without reserve. People came to You in their need, and You did not hesitate to serve them out of love. Give me a heart that imitates Your generosity and help me to always say “Yes” to the charitable work to which I am called. May I learn to find great joy in serving others, especially in those unplanned and unexpected circumstances of life. Jesus, I trust in You.