Fourth Sunday of Ordinary Time Year B

Fourth Sunday of Ordinary Time Year B

Rev. James M. Donohue, C.R.

Father Jim is the Vicar-Provincial of the Ontario-Kentucky Province and a professor and chair of the Theology Department at Mount St. Mary’s University in Emmitsburg, MD., where he has taught since 1996. His research and publications deal primarily with the rites of sickness, dying, and death. He teaches courses in systematics, such as Christology and Sacraments, and in pastoral education, such as theology of Lay Ministry, Skills for Ministry, and Youth Ministry.


January 28, 2018

GATHERING TIME (10-15 minutes)

Introduction to the Word:

One of the courses that I teach first-year students at Mount St. Mary’s University is called “Good People, Good Work.” We study the lives of some very good people and the work that they did in the world: André and Magda Trocmé, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Archbishop Oscar Romero, Fr. Stanley Rother, Dorothy Day, and Jean Vanier. Each, in his or her own way, worked to promote the dignity of the human person in the midst of various unjust situations in which they lived. André and Magda Trocmé lived in occupied France during WW II and saved the lives of about 5,000 refugees, including about 3,500 Jewish children. In Lest Innocent Blood Be Shed, Phillip Hallie—the son of two of those Jewish refugees—asserts that André Trocmé believed that “in attacking evil, we must cherish the preciousness of all human life. Our obligation to diminish the evil in the world must begin at home; we must not do evil, must not do ourselves harm” (Hallie 85).

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., a few decades later, spoke out against racial injustice in the United States. In his famous 1963 “Letter from Birmingham Jail,” King explained that he came to Birmingham “because injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” When the clergymen of Alabama accused King of actions that were “unwise and untimely,” he responded that in his experience, “’Wait’ almost always means ‘never.’” For his part, Archbishop Oscar Romero worked for just wages for the indigenous people of El Salvador. Murdered while saying Mass on March 24, 1980, Romero had worked for land reform in a country where a small number of families controlled most of the arable land. He became “a voice for the voiceless.” In a similar situation in Guatemala, Stanley Rother, a priest from Oklahoma City—who studied at Mount St. Mary’s Seminary—was killed on July 28, 1981. He was on the “death list” and had returned to Oklahoma City, but after a week of prayer and contemplation at Mount St. Mary’s, he decided to return to his flock. As he told the rector of that time, Fr. Harry Flynn (who is now the archbishop emeritus of St. Paul-Minneapolis), “If I speak out, they will kill me. If I remain silent, what kind of pastor would I be?” (Tom Gallagher, “A Story about What It Means to Be a Pastor,” National Catholic Reporter, August 9, 2010). Fr. Rother was beatified on September 23, 2017 and upon his canonization will become the first American-born martyr.

Dorothy Day was famous for her work with the poor, especially in New York City during the Depression, but later she also lent her voice and action to other causes, such as the farm workers’ movement in California. She did not just work for the poor, but lived with them in a Catholic Worker House in Brooklyn. At the basis of her ministry were the corporal works of mercy: feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, clothe the naked, visit the sick and those who are imprisoned, and bury the dead. Similarly, Jean Vanier does not just speak about embracing the intellectually handicapped members of our society, but has spent the vast majority of his life living in community with people with intellectual disabilities.

There are some interesting aspects about all of these admirable people. First, as we uncover the stories of their youth, they are unremarkable, and most people would be surprised at what they accomplished. Second, they were often criticized by the “church” in some way. For example, André and Magda Trocmé were told by their Protestant leaders to stop helping the Jews, lest they be persecuted further by the Nazis. Dr. King was criticized by the leading clergymen of Alabama for leading a non-violent march in Birmingham. Even Archbishop Oscar Romero was undermined by some of the Salvadoran bishops and met initial criticism from Pope John Paul II. Third, despite opposition from those empowered by the status quo—and from those that they might expect support from—they persisted in working for what was good and just. In doing so, they accepted many hardships, and in the case of several, death. In spite of this, they did not think of their own good works as anything extraordinary, but only what God was calling them to do. Perhaps this is best summarized in Dorothy Day’s own plea in the last years of her life: “Please, don’t call me a saint.” Whatever name we might give these people, it is clear that in their actions, they have “spoken with authority.”

Warm-up Activity(about 8-10 minutes):

To get into the spirit of today’s readings,with their emphasis on being a prophet (one who speaks with authority), you are invited to identify a few ideas about being a prophet.

a) What is the first thought or image that comes to your mind when you hear the word “prophet”?

b) Has any particular Old Testament prophet inspired you in a special way?

c) Who is Jesus and what it means to call Him “a Prophet” or “one who speaks with authority”?

d) What would being a prophet look like for you, in your time and place?

e) What do you fear in being God’s prophet?

The Table of the Word

Baptism Includes a Prophetic Ministry
After we are baptized with water and the Holy Spirit, we are anointed with the Oil of Chrism. Upon anointing, we hear the words: “God the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ has freed you from sin, given you a new birth by water and the Holy Spirit, and welcomed you into His holy people. He now anoints you with the chrism of salvation. As Christ was anointed Priest, Prophet, and King, so may you live always as a member of his body, sharing everlasting life.” Vatican II’s document on the Church, Lumen Gentium, makes a distinction between how ordained and lay members of the Church are called to live out their prophetic ministry. In the case of the ordained minister—particularly the bishop—prophetic ministry is identified with authoritative teaching. As successors of the apostles and members of the college of bishops, the bishops throughout the world, in union with the Pope, share in the apostolic responsibility and mission of the whole Church. For their part, the baptized members of the common priesthood exercise their prophetic office with the testimony of their daily social and family life. This work is understood as evangelization, for the laity carry forth the message of Christ through their words and the witness of their lives in the ordinary worldly situations of life. (Lumen Gentium #35)

Introduction: Let us call upon the Lord in Prayer.

Lord Jesus, you are the prophet above all prophets, Lord, have mercy

Christ Jesus, you call us to be your prophets, Christ, have mercy

Lord Jesus, you inspire us to share your truth. Lord, have mercy

Let us pray (together):

Almighty God, you call us to be your prophets in our own time and place.

Inspired by the prophets of old, and of our own age,

we turn to you for the light that only you can give,

so that we might truly speak in your name,

and call our brothers and sisters into deeper unity with you.

This we ask, through Jesus Christ, Our Lord. Amen.


(As Christians we believe that the WORD of God we hear proclaimed each Sunday in an empowering Word, and that God is present in the Word proclaimed. This is the Word that God wants us to hear today. The dynamic of this allows this Word to become alive and energizing as we share our stories in response to Jesus’ own life-giving story.)

FIRST READING(Deuteronomy 18:15-20)

Moses spoke to the people; he said: “The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among your own people; you shall heed such a prophet. This is what you requested of the Lord your God at Horeb on the day of the assembly when you said” ‘If I hear the voice of the Lord my God any more, or ever again see this great fire, I will die’.

“Then the Lord replied to me: ‘They are right in what they have said. I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their own people; I will put my words in the mouth of the prophet, who shall speak to them everything that I command.’” Anyone who does not heed the words that the prophet shall speak in my name, I myself will hold accountable. But any prophet who speaks in the name of other gods, or who presumes to speak in my name a word that I have not commanded the prophet to speak - that prophet shall die’”.

The Word of the Lord. Thanks be to God

SECOND READING(1 Corinthians 7:17, 32-35)

Brothers and sisters, I want you to be free from anxieties. The unmarried man is anxious about the affairs of the lord, how to please the Lord; but the married man is anxious about the affairs of the world, how to please his wife, and his interests are divided. The unmarried woman and the virgin are concerned about the affairs of the Lord, so that they may be holy in body and spirit; but the married woman is concerned about the affairs of the world, how to please her husband. I say this for your own benefit, not to put any restraint upon you, but to promote good order and unhindered devotion to the Lord.

The Word of the Lord. Thanks be to God

GOSPEL(Mark 1:32-38)

A reading from the Holy Gospel according to Mark. Glory to you, O Lord

The disciples went to Capernaum; and when the Sabbath came, Jesus entered the synagogue and taught. They were astounded at his teaching, for he taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes. Just then there was in the synagogue a man with an unclean spirit, and 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.” But Jesus rebuked him, saying, “Be silent, and come out of him!” And the unclean spirit, convulsing the man and crying with a loud voice, came out of him. They were all amazed, and they kept on asking one another, “What is this! A new teaching - with authority! He commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey him.” At once Jesus’ fame began to spread throughout the surrounding region of Galilee.

The Gospel of the Lord. Praise to you, Lord Jesus Christ

(Allow two minutes for quiet reflection on a meaningful word or thought.)


The verses that precede our selection from the Book of Deuteronomy provide a context for today’s first reading: “When you come into the land which the LORD, your God, is giving you, you shall not learn to imitate the abominations of the nations there. Let there not be found among you anyone who causes their son or daughter to pass through the fire, or practices divination, or is a soothsayer, augur, or sorcerer, or who casts spells, consults ghosts and spirits, or seeks oracles from the dead”(18:9-11). The people of Israel are always tempted to adopt the practices of the more successful-looking neighboring people they encounter, and in accepting these ways, they are always tempted to forget the LORD, their God. Instead, anticipating this problem, God provides a sure way for the people of Israel to remain faithful to God and the covenant: God will raise up from among Israel—that is, not from foreign sources—a prophet who will speak God’s word clearly for them. The voice of the prophet speaks for God and so they will be able to trust that it is God’s voice that calls and guides them.

Today’s Gospel from Mark depicts the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry. He has just called his first disciples, the fishermen Peter and his brother Andrew, and James and his brother John. Now Jesus begins His first act of ministry by healing a man possessed by a demon in a synagogue. Interestingly, in the next story, Jesus will heal a woman who is sick—Simon’s mother-in-law—in a house. Already, in these first acts of His ministry, Jesus has “announced” that the Good News He proclaims is for all people. Where do we see this? Jesus heals a man in a synagogue (Jewish place of worship). Then he heals a woman in a house. If we remember that the early Gentile Christians worshiped in “house-churches”—structures large enough to hold a gathering for the meal that included the celebration of the Eucharist, we see that Jesus has come also for Gentiles. This good news is intended for men and women, for Jews and Gentiles, and—we could go further in saying—for those held captive or enslaved by the demoniac and those who are not. What Mark has done early in his Gospel is to provide the focus of Jesus’ entire ministry, which might be summarized most clearly by what St. Paul states: “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free person, there is not male and female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Gal 3:28). Jesus is the incarnation of God and, as so, His inclusive and compassionate deeds speak as authoritative words. People can place their trust in these prophetic words in action.

Although our second reading does not deal with prophecy per se, one could look at Paul as one who emerges as a prophet, one whose words are spoken with authority. What makes his teaching authoritative is that, like Moses and the other Old Testament prophets, and Jesus Himself, Paul’s actions back up his words. He endured much for the sake of the Gospel—indeed, his blood will be spilled for it—and the Pauline communities, as well as church communities today, continue to trust in his teaching as coming authoritatively from God.

Allow 5 – 10 minutes for the participants to react to the Commentary identify a newly discovered insight.

Questions for Reflection and Discussion:

1. (Deuteronomy) “I will raise up for them a prophet.”

a) When and where have you felt “raised up” to be a prophet?

b) How would you describe your inspiration, by God, to speak on His behalf to someone (an individual, a group, etc.)?

c) How did you experience God “putting His words into your mouth”?

2. (1 Corinthians) “…unhindered devotion to the Lord.”

a) What are the things that distract you from the Lord? From being His prophet?

b) How are you conscious of living a holy life “in both body and spirit?”

c) How is your witness prophetic in the lives of others?

3. (Mark) “He taught them as one having authority and not as the scribes.”

a) How have you been conscious of speaking with “authority” to others in the name of God?

b) What is the price, to you, of being prophetic?

c) What is the price, to you, of not accepting to be God’s prophet in your time and place? The price to the kingdom of God in our midst?

CARING-PRAYING TIME(15 - 20 minutes)

  1. Word for the Week:“I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their own people.”
  1. Suggestion for the Week: This week, be more attentive to the times that you can be prophetic.

Identify and respond to opportunities to “announce” the love of God, his mercy, and his truth.

At the same time, identify and respond to opportunities to “denounce” selfishness and greed, pride and hatred. Take small steps in personal conversations, in encounters with family, co-workers and friends. Recognize and accept the power that your words have. In order to be God’s prophet, we must seek out His will, in order to reflect his truth and love to others. This week, try to be more conscious of your efforts to do this, to purify your own will and intentions, so that God will act in and through you (and sometimes despite you, perhaps!).

  1. Intercessions:

(Response: Lord, hear our prayer)

Leader: Let us bring together our prayers and petitions as we prepare to separate, and to be God’s prophets to the world.

For those given authority by the Church, that their words and actions will be truly prophetic and bring us to a deeper life in Christ, we pray…