Sunday Sermon for January 28, 2024, the Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B

Readings: Deut 18:15-20; 1 Cor 7:32-35; Mk 1:21-28

In the first reading today, Moses tells the people that God would raise up a prophet like Moses for the people.  This prophet will tell the people all that God commands him to speak and, if anyone fails to listen to him, God will hold that person responsible.  Throughout the centuries following this revelation, God raised up many prophets in Israel who spoke the word of God to the people.  None of these prophets was ever considered the one God promised through Moses. 

In the Gospel reading, we hear about our Lord, at the beginning of His public ministry, teaching in the synagogue at Capernaum and casting out an unclean spirit from a man who was in the crowd.  The people who heard our Lord preaching were astonished because He taught as one having authority.  He is compared to the scribes who taught the people, but their message was lacking any sense of authority.

One could make the argument that Jesus was simply a better preacher than the scribes or that He taught with more gusto and so moved the people in a way the scribes were not able to.  But this line of thinking falls apart quickly when we read about the unclean spirit crying out and acknowledging Jesus as the Holy One of God.  When Jesus ordered the demon to leave the man, the demon was obedient; this made a deep impression on the people who witnessed the event.

We are told the people were amazed and asked one another: “What is this?  A new teaching with authority.  He commands even the unclean spirits and they obey him.”  Following this, Jesus’ fame spread throughout the region of Galilee.  We are not told whether or not the people recognized Jesus as the One spoken of by Moses, but if people heard about Him and came to listen to Him, one would have to assume they had to wonder about this.  After all, Andrew spoke with Jesus for a short time and found his brother, Simon, and told him they had found the One Moses spoke about.

 We must ask ourselves a few questions based on what we have already seen.  Do I believe Jesus is the One spoken of by Moses?  Does Jesus really have authority in my life?  If the demons obey Jesus, do I?  If we believe Jesus is the Prophet, the Messiah, the Promised One, then He spoke the words His Father commanded Him to speak.  As we saw above, if we do not listen to Him, God will make us answer. 

We might say that we listen to Him, but do we allow Him to have authority in our lives?  Most of us want to be in control of our own lives and we pick and choose which teachings of the Lord we want to follow.  Remember, God is truth and God is love.  That means that He cannot teach anything that is not true.  He does teach things that some people think are inconvenient, but that does not change the fact that they are true.  At the same time, since God is love, He can only do what is best for us.  Some of His teachings we may not think to be best, but that is because we are looking at things from our own selfish and imperfect perspective. 

If we look at the second reading as an example, St. Paul mentions the struggle married people may encounter because they are trying to serve both the Lord and a spouse.  Of course, if God has called a person to be married, there should be no conflict because to serve one’s spouse is doing the will of God and, thereby, serving God.  We must also recall that St. Paul tells us this teaching regarding marriage is his own and that he did not receive it from the Lord.

Therefore, there are some things about marriage that have been received from the Lord that can be considered.  We all find adultery to be a sin, but what about divorce and remarriage without an annulment?  The physical union of the couple is the sign and expression of the marriage, the spiritual union of the couple.  Do we believe any sexual activity outside of marriage to be a mortal sin?  Do we accept that contraception is a mortal sin, a grave violation of one’s own dignity and that of one’s spouse, and a violation of the marriage vows? 

Many other questions like this could be raised, but these will suffice to make the point that for many Catholics, Jesus does not have authority in their lives.  We proclaim Him to be God, but reject His teaching, thus giving the real authority in our lives to our own selfishness and to lies.  We should be amazed!

Fr. Altier’s column appears regularly in The Wanderer, a national Catholic weekly published in St. Paul, Minn. For information about subscribing to The Wanderer, please visit