Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time
23 Jan 2024

Reading I: Deut 18:15-20
Psalm:  95:1-2, 6-9
Reading II: 1 Cor 7:32-35
Gospel: Mark 1:21-28


Where have all the resolutions gone?

We are far enough into the New Year to ask: ‘Where have all the resolutions gone?’ Every year we begin with good intentions and a certain amount of fervor, but it does not take long before we must admit that something has gone wrong. Either we tried to do more than we could in too short a time, or we became discouraged when long-standing bad habits did not melt away like snow during an early thaw, or we simply lose interest and sank back into the routine of life. Whatever the case may be, our resolutions have been shelved until next New Year, once again we will be filled with enthusiasm and good will. It is unfortunate if we feel this way, for the readings of Ordinary Time continually remind us of the responsibilities that are ours as disciples of Jesus, and these responsibilities require that we resolve to improve our lives. However, the readings for the Sundays in Ordinary Time do not require that we change all at once. They offer such insights into this transformation one at a time. 

Why would we be willing to accept the demands of discipleship and change our way of living? Because we know that we have habits that we should break, and that we cherish attitudes that we should change. In some ways we might even have made a convenient truce with the forces of evil that roam freely in the world today, forces such as complacency in the face of poverty and injustice, religious or racial bias, an unwillingness to forgive. We know that we should change. That is why we make New Year’s resolutions. However, discipleship calls for more than a promise to eat less or exercise regularly. It calls for a real, even though gradual, transformation of mind and heart.

Today’s gospel tells the story of an exorcism. A man was possessed by an unclean spirit. The people at the time of Jesus believed that the world was the battlefield of a deadly conflict between the forces of good and the forces of evil. In line with this, all the suffering in the world was caused by demons that took control of people’s lives. This explains why the gospels recount so many situations where Jesus casts out a demon. Each exorcism was a victory of good over evil, a defeat of the power of demons and the establishment of the reign of God. Often this evil took the form of some physical malady. Such was the case with the man in today’s gospel, though his physical ailment is not identified. The demon appears to be unwilling to relinquish control of the man, for his departure is marked by the man’s convulsions. This may appear to be an insignificant victory, but this is how the battle against the forced of evil is won, this is how the reign of God is established – little by little.

We no longer entertain the worldview held by our religious ancestors, but we cannot deny that we are often caught in a battle between the forces of good and the forces of evil. Sometimes we even use the same language and speak about ‘our demons.’ We may be using the language metaphorically, but we cannot deny that at times we find ourselves under the control of habits that are detrimental to our well being. Like the man in the gospel, we might need something as drastic as an exorcism to release us from their grip. And if we do not have the inner strength to keep simple New Year’s resolutions, how can we hope to overcome these demons?

We do not all have to enroll in a rehab program, but we do need help if we are to change our lives. And God promised to send this help. The first reading reports this promise. Moses announced: “A prophet like me will the Lord, your God, raise up for you from among your own kin.” This prophet would be chosen by God from within the people themselves, and would speak God’s own words with God’s authority. From this passage grew the tradition that the messiah would be a prophet. The gospel identifies Jesus as one who taught with such authority. His words and actions show that he has conquered the forces of evil. However, this victory must be realized in the life of each one of us. The reign of God must be established little by little.

There have always been many and varied voices that claim to have the remedy for our ills. Preachers have stirred up crowds and ignited emotions. Promises of healing have been made, yet the inner conflict that we suffer goes on and the demons continue to hold us by the throat. But then a voice is heard in the midst of the chaos of our lives, in the rubble of our broken resolutions. This voice rings with authority: “Be quiet!  Come out”



Dianne Bergant, CSA

Carroll Stuhlmueller, CP, Distinguished Professor Emerita of Old Testament Studies