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Reflection on the Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Posted on January 31, 2021, by Mary Swain SL

Mark 1:21-28

Jesus is in Capernaum.  It’s early in his public life.  Things go well.  In last Sunday’s Gospel, he met Simon and Andrew, then James and John.  He asked them to come with him. They dropped everything and followed him. Today, an unclean spirit in someone shouts out in the middle of Jesus’ teaching.  Jesus is confident and undaunted.  The people are astonished and amazed.  “What is this?” they say. 

Jesus taught as one having authority.  He continued to act that way, even when the going got rough. Later on it is the people in Capernaum, so praising of him now, who don’t like what he is saying and try to throw him over the nearby cliff

We have responded to the call to follow Jesus, yet Gospel stories like this are scary.  How can we imitate this Jesus who is so successful, who knows just what to say and everyone listens?

We are called to follow Jesus, and part of that calling is to know ourselves as Jesus knows himself.  Jesus knows who he is.  Jesus knows, as we heard in the Gospel three weeks ago, that he is beloved of God. At his baptism, he experienced himself as loved by God, deeply, intimately.  He came to realize that his life at its deepest core was completely one with the life of God. That is why Jesus could speak with authority. To speak with authority is to act in freedom. Jesus is free of external expectations. He is not anxious about what others think.

Authority comes from a Latin word that means to create, to increase, to make grow. Sunday after Sunday these next few weeks we will listen to Mark tell us of Jesus’ activity. We wonder if Jesus ever sleeps. We will find him healing those who are sick, driving out demons, curing a leper, giving a paralytic movement in his limbs again, restoring a man’s withered hand to usefulness. Jesus is acting with authority: He is creating life where life was lacking; he is increasing and empowering each of these people to a greater fullness of life. At the same time, he is letting them know who they are:  beloved of God. He treats each one as such. He knows that each person at her or his deepest core is completely one with the life of God. If we are to follow Jesus, we must believe that of ourselves and of each person in our life.

Today we mark Thomas Merton’s 106th birthday. He spoke and wrote much about inner freedom. He must have understood Jesus’ “speaking with authority.” We must be free, he said, to do what we really want. And what do we really want? To be able to love without impediment. To be free from compulsions. To be free from heedlessness, to be attentive to reality and fully awake to what we are doing. The real question, he says, is not am I happy, but am I free. To the extent that we know ourselves, along with Jesus, as beloved of God, to that extent we are free. To that extent we, too, will speak with authority.


Mary Swain SL

Mary Swain SL has been a consultant to the National Religious Retirement Office and has served on the board for the National Association for Treasurers of Religious Institutes. Along with her math background and service to the Loretto Community in the financial area, she has experience as a church organist and plans and prepares materials for Loretto liturgies at Loretto Motherhouse and for special occasions. Mary resides at Loretto Motherhouse, the grounds of which receive her careful tending and loving touch.