Are We Astonished? Mk 1:21-28

 jesus-teachingBy: M. Nelle Carty

In the gospel reading on this fourth Sunday of ordinary time, we learn about the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry. Mark’s gospel describes Jesus entering the synagogue—probably more like a contained market place or campus than a free-standing building–and teaching on the Sabbath. Jesus doesn’t just make a few suggestions or hand out some flyers. Jesus begins teachingwith authority. This alone might make one ask, “Who is this guy?” The only one in this story who identifies Jesus correctly is the man with an unclean spirit. How baffling! The sole person who recognizes Jesus as “The Holy One of God” is the least likely character. Is this really “good news?” Why are the others “astonished” but unable to recognize Jesus as the Son of God? 

Like many of the rich gospel narratives, this story prompts a number of questions, such as, “what does this have to do with me?” If you have time, stop reading this for two seconds and go read the story. As you read the story, where do you imagine yourself if you were to insert yourself into this scene?

 After using this Ignatian technique for entering into prayerful dialogue with a passage, did you find yourself astonished? I somehow imagine myself on my way to the synagogue for services and am distracted from my Sabbath ritual by this charismatic but sincere teacher. I witness a spectacle with one of the non-practicing types that often loiters around the synagogue. This guy, the lewd, unsavory one, makes the outrageous claim that this teacher is “the Holy One of God.” I see the lewd guy convulse and scream…Did this rabbi, who isn’t really an official rabbi, just cleanse this unholy man? On the Sabbath? Who is this guy? I need to go see if anyone else just saw this… 

In this Ignatian exercise I did not imagine myself as the unsavory person with “an unclean spirit.” In this exercise, I did not recognize the teacher, either. How often do I fail to recognize God at work in my life?  Am I too busy waiting for God to communicate when, how and what I expect God to communicate? Perhaps this fourth Sunday in ordinary time is an opportunity to release the expectations I place on God and allow God to reveal the out-of-the-ordinary Presence, which is awe-inspiring, but not astonishing.  

 M. Nelle Carty is astonished that she is in her final semester of divinity school!

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