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Breath of the Spirit Reflection: Confronting the Reality of Jesus in Our Midst

The presence of Jesus, God’s Anointed, is an incredible gift to those who are open to this loving companionship. However, today’s reflection reminds us this gift entails responsibility. We cannot authentically accept the Divine offer of steadfast love if, in the same act of the will, we do not also commit to being that steadfast love for others.

January 28, 2024: Fourth Sunday Ordinary Time, Cycle B

Deuteronomy 18:15-20

Psalm 95:1-2, 6-9

1 Corinthians 7:32-35

Mark 1:21-28

Confronting the Reality of Jesus in Our Midst

A reflection by Ann Penick

The themes for the readings this Sunday are as follows: 1) divine prophetic authority and truth, 2) recognizing divine guidance and obedience in joyful worship and praise, 3) putting God before all else, 4) the authority of Jesus, and 5) acknowledgement of Jesus’ power. Through it all, we are invited to recognize the presence of Jesus in our lives. In the passage from Deuteronomy, Moses predicts the coming of a powerful prophet emphasizing the importance of discernment when it comes to prophetic voices communicating God’s will and truth. In the reading from Mark, people were amazed by Jesus’ authoritative teachings—in contrast with those of the other Jewish leaders at the time.

Here, Mark’s gospel is to the point: Jesus is the Messiah, the Christ, the Anointed One of God. For the next four Sundays Mark will be informing us of the coming Realm of God. This Realm is not a geographic place. It is wherever God reigns. We must first look into our own hearts to discover the Realm of God within us. However, we also discover the Realm of God among us.

Jesus and the disciples came to Capernaum. Peter lived in Capernaum and was called to be one of Jesus’ disciples. Peter was in the fishing industry and lived on the coastline of the Sea of Galilee. Jesus, along with Peter and the other disciples—including Peter’s brother Andrew and brothers James and John—made  the small fishing village of Capernaum their ministry base for their time in Galilee.

When Jesus enters the synagogue at Capernaum for the first time, he was invited as a guest preacher. People knew he came from Nazareth, which was about 40 miles further south. People also knew he had a group of disciples with him. But, beyond that we do not really know how much people knew about him.

When he entered the synagogue, he taught. The author of Mark tells us that when Jesus spoke, those gathered were astonished at what he said. Jesus spoke to the heart. He touched these people and moved them in ways that the sacred books and the scribes had never done before. They were in awe of him because he spoke with such authority.

One of the men at the synagogue was mentally ill and had a struggle going on within him. Those gathered said he had an “unclean spirit.” Because of this, he was not allowed to go into the temple to pray but, because he was Jewish, was allowed in the back of the synagogue. At times, he would shout out in the middle of the service. When he heard Jesus, he cried out, “What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know you are the Holy One of God.” Everything got quiet. Jesus went over to him and forbid him to speak, saying, “Be Quiet” and then, “Come out of him!” The man was thrown to the ground, kicking and screaming. He finally calmed down and whatever was within him had gone. Those gathered were amazed and all asked one another, “What is this? This is a new teaching with authority. He commands even the unclean spirits and they obey him!”

Why did the gospel writer tell this story? I believe it was to confront us with the reality of Jesus as the Christ. Any one of us can be experiencing physical and mental anguish. The person is in the synagogue and Jesus standd before them saying to the illness, “Be quiet and leave!” Then the person becomes calm. Jesus will be the One who stands before us in our own suffering when we feel we cannot go on. It will be Jesus who will say to our pain, “Be quiet. Leave this person!”

When we are troubled, feel as if no hope is left, and think wehave reached our breaking point—Jesus is there. Jesus understands and comes to us. In Jesus, it is Love itself that comes. Jesus brings the peace, the love, the forgiveness, the caring, the power, and the strength of God. Jesus comes to be one with us. No matter what happens or what circumstances we find ourselves in, God is with us to give us courage, strength, hope, peace, and love.

The Gospel writer’s message is this:  when we are experiencing turmoil, we may have no hope left, and our heart and mind are troubled—Jesus understands. Jesus says, “I am with you now until the end of time and I offer you God’s forgiveness, God’s compassion, and God’s love. Don’t worry, just walk with me. I will be there to lift you up. We can keep walking, because we are not alone. We walk in the presence of Jesus, the presence of the Christos, the Anointed One of God. Jesus walks with us just as with the disciples two millenia ago. As Jesus journeyed with our ancestors in faith, Jesus walks with us now. And through us, Jesus will continue to accompany people of good will into the future.

Ann Penick is originally from the Chicago area. She and her husband, Jim, live in the Washington, DC metropolitan area. Ann was ordained a priest with Roman Catholic Womenpriests in 2011. Ann has been serving the faith communities of Dignity Washington and Northern Virginia Dignity as one of their presiders since 2017. She also serves as one of the board members of DignityUSA. In addition, she has been pastoring a faith community of young families in Washington, DC since 2013.