WORDS – Fourth Sunday after the Epiphany, Year B; Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B (RC)

January 28, 2024

Revised Common Lectionary
Deuteronomy 18:15-20
Psalm 111
1 Corinthians 8:1-13
Mark 1:21-28

Lectionary for Mass (RC)
Deuteronomy 18:15-20
Psalm 95:1-2, 6-7, 7-9 (8)
1 Corinthians 7:32-35
Mark 1:21-28

Words matter.

The words of family members and friends can support and heal, but they can also injure and tear down. The words of political leaders can unify and inspire, but they can also do harm and even incite violence. Sometimes our words have unintended consequences, but that makes them no less powerful.

The God of the Bible always speaks with purpose—from the word that brought the world into being to the Word-made-flesh that shines in the darkness. God’s word not only expresses the divine purpose but also brings it about: “so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and succeed in the thing for which I sent it” (Is 55:11).

In today’s Gospel reading, following the call of his first disciples, Jesus sets out for Capernaum and makes a Sabbath day appearance at the local synagogue. Those who heard him there could tell that his words were different. Here was a teacher speaking “as one having authority, and not as the scribes” (Mk 1:22).

The Gospel writer’s emphasis here is on the teacher rather than on his teachings, which are not even mentioned. Those gathered in the synagogue that day experienced the “teaching” of Jesus not as bits of information, but rather as change that comes about as he speaks with authority. The words of Jesus don’t merely convey ideas; rather, they make things happen—bringing freedom and healing to a man held bound by an unclean spirit and thus offering a glimpse of God’s dream for the world. Little wonder that people were amazed by what they witnessed: “What is this? A new teaching–with authority! He commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey him” (Mk 1:27).

As we celebrate today the manifestation of God’s glory in the words and deeds of Jesus, the Scriptures challenge us to consider the words we speak and the impact that they have on those around us. If we’re paying attention, we know all too well how harmful our words can be to others, often to those who are closest to us. Yet they can also bring peace, compassion, justice, healing, and more.

We can use words against the demons that hold people captive or cause division. Our words can comfort a grieving friend or neighbor, reassure a frightened child, refute racist comments, advocate on behalf of refugees and immigrants, or reconcile with someone from whom we’re estranged. To follow Jesus is to speak as he did—with the authority that comes from embracing God’s way. When we speak with such conviction based on faith, our words become actions that reveal God’s reign coming among us.

A Hymn for Today: “Silence! Frenzied, Unclean Spirit”

This text by Thomas Troeger, FHS, based on the Gospel story we hear today, was first published in 1986 in a collection of hymns for the Lectionary. When sung to the powerful tune AUTHORITY, composed by Carol Doran (1936-2023) specifically for this text, singers may experience alarm at the threat of demons and take comfort in the power of Christ’s word to drive them out. Listen here.

“Silence! Frenzied, unclean spirit,”
Cried God’s healing, holy One.
“Cease your ranting! Flesh can’t bear it.
Flee as night before the sun.”
At Christ’s voice the demon trembled,
From its victim madly rushed,
While the crowd that was assembled
Stood in wonder, stunned and hushed.

Lord, the demons still are thriving
In the grey cells of the mind:
Tyrant voices shrill and driving,
Twisted thoughts that grip and bind,
Doubts that stir the heart to panic,
Fears distorting reason’s sight,
Guilt that makes our loving frantic,
Dreams that cloud the soul with fright.

Silence, Lord, the unclean spirit,
In our mind and in our heart.
Speak your word, that when we hear it,
All our demons shall depart.
Clear our thought and calm our feeling,
Still the fractured, warring soul.
By the power of your healing
Make us faithful, true, and whole.

Text: Thomas H. Troeger, 1945-2022. © 1986 Oxford University Press. Used by permission under OneLicense #A-729857.

Image Credit: Christ Preaching at Capernaum, Maurycy Gottlieb, 1878 or 1879, National Museum, Warsaw

“Word and Song: A Lectionary Reflection” is written by the Executive Director of The Hymn Society, Rev. Dr. Mike McMahon. For his full bio, click here and scroll down to the “staff” section.

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