Homily 31st January, 2021

Painting of Jesus casting out unclean spirits

Homily for the 4th Sunday in Ordinary Time A

In today’s first reading from the Book of Deuteronomy, we heard God’s promise of calling new prophets who – after Moses’ death – will take over his mission and duties, becoming like him the voice of God and spiritual guides of the Chosen People. As we heard, Moses said to the people: “Your God will raise up for you a prophet like myself, from among yourselves, from your own brothers, to him you must listen”. According to God’s plan, the main task and duty of the prophet was to remind, defend, fight and sometimes even lay down his life for truth and God’s justice among the Israelites.

I think this first reading wants to tell us something very basic and simple at the same time: It is true that God speaks to us first and foremost in the church when we gather every Sunday to celebrate the Eucharist and listen to the Scriptures, but he also wants to speak to us through different people. As we know, none of us is an island and likewise none of us is self-sufficient on our journey of faith, and therefore each of us needs a spiritual guide and authority on this difficult and sometimes very long journey. I think many people especially living in the modern world can feel lost and confused at times. Perhaps many of us struggle with the same questions like the Israelites did: What does God really want from me at this moment and at this stage in my life? How to follow God’s commandments as best we can and how to distinguish between what is right and what is wrong? And finally, what should I do to make only the right decisions according to God’s will?

Perhaps at times it is difficult for us to find the right person who would be the most credible and authentic voice of God. So, let us try to apply this first reading to the reality we live in, and ask ourselves who is the greatest authority of faith for me? I am convinced that even today, even in these difficult times in which we live, God is very concerned about each of us and he keeps sending us someone like the prophets, someone like Moses and his successors. For us, such a prophet is – first and foremost – Pope Francis, bishops and priests. It might be a priest who hears our confession being our spiritual director. But such a prophet living among us might be also a layperson: our parents, grandparents, a friend or even a random person who teaches and gives us a good example how to recognize God’s will in our lives and how to follow it. None of us really knows who might be such a prophet sent by God himself to teach us, admonish us and remind us of what the essence of our Christian life is. The words that Moses says on behalf of God himself seem to be very strong and unambiguous: “I will put my words into his mouth and he shall tell them all I command him “. And a bit further – “The man who does not listen to my words that he speaks in my name, shall be held answerable to me for it”.

There is another interesting aspect to this first reading. The last sentence of this reading sounds a bit mysterious and even scary. “But the prophet who presumes to say in my name a thing I have not commanded him to say, or who speaks in the name of other gods, that prophet shall die”. So – as we hear – being a prophet is not only a privilege and honour, but above all it is a very responsible and difficult mission. And this is why we should constantly pray asking God for strength, wisdom and fidelity to the Word of God for all those who have been called to this difficult ministry.

In today’s gospel, we heard a very dramatic and spectacular scene of the liberation and healing of a possessed man. When I read this gospel a few days ago, I thought that many Catholics or Christians living in the modern world – even those who don’t practice their faith and have no relationship with Jesus – could say exactly what this unclean spirit said: “I know who you are: The Holy One of God”. I think it is very interesting that even the devil can recognize and acknowledge who Jesus really is. Today Jesus wants to tell us that recognizing him or even professing faith in him – as the unclean spirit did in today’s gospel – is definitely not enough. Our relationship with Jesus is not only a matter of knowledge, but it has to be a relationship based on real friendship, longing and trust in him.

The second thought I wanted to share with you is: As we heard, Jesus did not allow himself to be drawn into any dialogue with unclean spirit and he didn’t ask him any questions like for example: How did you know who I am? No, he was not interested in any dialogue with evil at all, but his reaction was immediate, firm and very sharp. “Be quiet! Come out of him!” I think this is a perfect example for us not to dialogue with evil, but when we experience any temptations to offend God with any sins, our reaction and attitude should be similar to that of Jesus. Be quiet! come out of me!

Let us pray to God that this beautiful example of Jesus’ courage and firmness will always accompany us whenever we have to struggle or fight with our unclean spirits, that is, with our daily temptations and weaknesses. Amen.

Fr Gregory