How “astonished”, “amazed” and “spellbound” are we?

Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Deuteronomy 18:15-20

Moses spoke to all the people, saying: "A prophet like me will the LORD, your God, raise up for you from among your own kin; to him you shall listen. This is exactly what you requested of the LORD, your God, at Horeb on the day of the assembly, when you said, 'Let us not again hear the voice of the LORD, our God, nor see this great fire any more, lest we die.' And the LORD said to me, 'This was well said. I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their kin, and will put my words into his mouth; he shall tell them all that I command him. Whoever will not listen to my words which he speaks in my name, I myself will make him answer for it. But if a prophet presumes to speak in my name an oracle that I have not commanded him to speak, or speaks in the name of other gods, he shall die.'"

1 Corinthians 7:32-35

Brothers and sisters: I should like you to be free of anxieties. An unmarried man is anxious about the things of the Lord, how he may please the Lord. But a married man is anxious about the things of the world, how he may please his wife, and he is divided. An unmarried woman or a virgin is anxious about the things of the Lord, so that she may be holy in both body and spirit. A married woman, on the other hand, is anxious about the things of the world, how she may please her husband. I am telling you this for your own benefit, not to impose a restraint upon you, but for the sake of propriety and adherence to the Lord without distraction.

Mark 1:21-28

Then they came to Capernaum, and on the sabbath Jesus entered the synagogue and taught. The people were astonished at his teaching, for he taught them as one having authority and not as the scribes. In their synagogue was a man with an unclean spirit; he cried out, "What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are—the Holy One of God!" Jesus rebuked him and said, "Quiet! Come out of him!" The unclean spirit convulsed him and with a loud cry came out of him. All were amazed and asked one another, "What is this? A new teaching with authority. He commands even the unclean spirits and they obey him." His fame spread everywhere throughout the whole region of Galilee.

“Astonished”, “amazed” and “spellbound” are the reactions of the people in this Sunday’s Gospel reading, recounted by Mark about a single day’s ministry of Jesus on a Sabbath at Capernaum. We do not know what Jesus teaches in the synagogue, but we know how He teaches – “teaching with authority” (Mk 1:22, 27). Jesus may have taught differently from the scribes in matter, but it is His manner that causes the people to be awestruck. While the scribes, teachers and experts of the law speak on the authority of the law; Jesus, a carpenter’s son, speaks on His own authority (rf Mk 12:28; Mt 22:35; Lk:5:17-21). Jesus’ oft-repeated words are: “I say to you” (rf Mt 5;18, 20, 22, 26, 28, 34; Lk 6:27, 19:26).

Mark’s account of Jesus’ first teaching and first powerful act are to be seen as intimately related. Not only does Jesus speak with authority, He also acts with power. His power in driving out the unclean spirit is not only a proof of His place in the hierarchy of powers, but also a manifestation that the dominion of God is now taking over that of the devil’s.

Though the crowds are astonished, amazed and spellbound, how many of them actually turn to Jesus and believe Him? In fact, some of them later detract His works by claiming that His authority comes from the power of Beelzebul, the prince of demons (rf Mt 12:24, Lk 11:15). Some even seek to destroy Him (rf Mt 12:14, Jn 11:45-57). If Jesus’ power fails to convince people of His divinity, but instead brings about hostile reactions, how much more difficult for Jesus to convince others when He reveals Himself in a less appealing way? Will you be even more astonished when He teaches that “The Son of Man had to suffer much, be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, be put to death, and rise three days later” (Mk 8:31)? Will you be, nevertheless, amazed at this wonder-worker when He is led through the streets of Jerusalem on His way to Calvary? Will you be still spellbound when He hangs on the cross, abandoned by most of His followers who were astounded by His first sign of power?

How truly are we astonished by miracles? How honestly are we amazed at the created order (both cosmic and microscopic)? How sincerely are we spellbound by God’s love and mercy? Some may believe in miracles but only for a while, others may try to seek various explanations for them. Some may marvel at the laws of nature and its perfect design but others may attribute it to randomness and chance. Some are grateful for God’s gift of salvation while others simply dismiss it with indifference.

Perhaps those who want to follow Jesus, the “amazing one”, cannot be just astonished, amazed and spellbound by His teachings and works, but must also go the way He goes, that is, “deny himself, take up his cross and follow in [Jesus’] steps” (Mk 8:34).

Posted: January 31, 2021

May Tam

May Tam, Bachelor of Social Science (University of Hong Kong), Master of Theological Studies (University of Toronto)

Other Sunday Reflections

God’s Laborers
Are we ready to accept the Lord’s invitation to exercise the lay apostolate and our common priesthood to become God’s “laborers” in our own different ways, each according to the… Continue Reading >
“Run so as to win”
Where does this “resoluteness” of Jesus come from? Continue Reading >
This Is My Body … This Is My Blood
When we receive Christ’s Body and Blood, we unite ourselves to Christ and bear witness to the greatest love of all. Continue Reading >