And a child shall lead them

Being of a certain age, with far more miles now traveled than those which could possibly remain, what occupies the quiet moments are but tiny echoes, rippled reflections of long ago when life was everlasting and all things were possible. Somewhere along the way—when, I cannot recall—the exuberance and optimism of youthful charity met the sober temperance of adulthood and much, far too much was lost of the beauty, kindness, goodness, and innocence of childhood.

Casting out an Unclean Spirit

There is much we should remember of our childhood, yet too soon we leave childish things behind. We forget how often God chooses children and the young over adults to teach and lead his people.

In Isaiah 11:6 we read: “The wolf shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid, and the calf and the lion and the fatling together, and a little child shall lead them.” A little child shall lead them.

In 1 Samuel 3:3-10 we heard the Lord calling the youth Samuel in the temple. Later, in 1 Samuel 16:11-12 when he is an old man, Samuel is called by the Lord to choose his successor from the sons of Jesse and the one chosen was David, the youngest.

Even at the young age of 12, in Luke 2:46-47 we read how his parents found Jesus in the temple, “sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions; and all who heard him were amazed at his understanding and his answers.” And in Matthew 19:14, Jesus acknowledges the importance of children when he says to his disciples: “Let the children come to me, and do not hinder them; for to such belongs the kingdom of heaven.”

This week we celebrate Catholic Schools Week. We celebrate the precious gift we have received from God, our children. And while our children have much to learn from their parents and teachers, we adults can learn—and in many cases, relearn—much from our children.

In one of Aesop’s fables an old Mother Crab says to her son, “Why do you walk sidewise like that my son? You ought to walk straight.”  The little crab responds by asking, “Show me how, dear Mother, and I’ll follow your example.” Though the Mother Crab tried in vain to walk straight she could only move sideways. She quickly saw how unreasonable was her advice to her son. The moral of the fable is obvious, it is easier to tell than to do, and an example is more authoritative than is a lesson.

Today, we heard that the people were astonished at Jesus teaching, “for he taught them as one having authority and not as the scribes.” They were astonished because Jesus was acting totally out of line with his inherited status. He was the son of a carpenter, an artisan from Nazareth who dared to teach “as one having authority.” Who gave him the authority to teach?

Authority is a major problem for Jesus’ contemporaries. No one denies the mighty deeds of power that Jesus performs. What troubles them is the source of his authority. Is it God? Or is it the world of the other, lesser gods and spirits?

The people in the synagogue at Capernaum have not yet decided. The fact, however, is very clear. Jesus the artisan from Nazareth has authority and effective power to do what he does. He behaves not shamefully, out of alignment with his status, but rather quite honorably. And this is why all the people were so amazed at his teaching and why, as Mark tells us, “His fame spread everywhere throughout the whole region of Galilee.”

We heard also, that as Jesus was teaching in the synagogue he was confronted by a man with an unclean spirit. The holiness of the synagogue has been violated; the sanctuary has been defiled. We know well, from the recent vandalism and desecration of our church, that unclean spirits are among us still.

Evil exists in this world and no matter how much we wish it did not, it remains. Albert Einstein once said that “The real problem is in the hearts and minds of men. It is easier to denature plutonium than to denature the evil spirit of man.” We are, as human beings, sinners, both by inclination and in fact. We are all born with the stain of original sin on our soul, a legacy inherited from our first parents. Fortunately, baptism cleanses our souls; unfortunately, the inclination to sin remains.

We tend to overdramatize this incident in the Gospel, to imagine a scene like that in The Exorcist with spinning heads and shrieking utterances in strange tongues.  Our imaginations run wild and we conjure up demonic possession; or we suspect some form of physical disability like epilepsy or perhaps a mental problem like schizophrenia.

The reality, I suspect, is far more mundane and unfortunately, all too common. In a very real sense, each of us has within us unclean spirits, spirits that for the most part are kept under control and hidden from others. Within us, we have a soul, an immortal spirit; it is what defines us as human beings, what makes us creatures made in the image and likeness of God. When we sin, and we all sin, we defile our souls and in doing so we become, like the man in the Gospel, a person with an unclean spirit.

What caused the man to confront Jesus, why did he cry out, “What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth?” Somewhere deep inside he must have realized that Jesus could save him, could rid him of his unclean spirits, could make him whole and clean again. Jesus knew his heart, saw within his soul, and cleaned away the darkness that he kept hidden away. Jesus saw the unclean spirit of the man and commanded “Quiet! Come out of him!

We all have secrets, thoughts and experiences that we don’t wish to share with anyone, things that we fervently hope will never be revealed. We all have our indiscretions, faults, and failures and we file them away, put them in boxes in the forgotten recesses of our minds, believing that once forgotten they will never be found again.

The problem is that what we so desperately wish to keep hidden, safe from all around us cannot be kept from God; he already knows, he has always known; and he knows where you stored them

And then there is another problem … we know. We cannot simply forget what we have done or failed to do. Over time, our secrets, our sins, our failings overshadow the good that is within. Like monsters hiding under the bed or the closet, that terrify in the darkness, we begin to believe that we are so failed and broken that nothing can ever save us. We stumble through life believing that we are unforgivable, unworthy, total failures. We become so ashamed of who we are and what we have done that we find ourselves, like Adam and Eve, hiding from God, hiding our nakedness.

When we keep unclean spirits around, no matter how well we attempt to hide them, it clutters our soul, dampens our spirit and builds walls that restrict our personal relationship with God.

Instead of holding onto our secrets, our unclean spirits, Jesus asks us to give our sins over to him, to let him clean our souls and make us whole again.

But that requires us to recognize that He is in control and that we are vulnerable. And that is often very difficult to accept. For most of us, we like being in control, we feel uncomfortable when we are not behind the wheel, when we are dependent on another. The thought of handing control over to someone else can be frightening, to say the least.

To be vulnerable to Christ is like a new born infant held in the loving arms of his or her mother. The child is entirely dependent on another, completely vulnerable, unable to exert any control, to make any decisions. And yet, the infant intuitively understands that he or she is safe and loved.

Like an infant, we should intuitively know that we are safe in God’s hands. God loves us and wants us to love him in return. No matter how many times we fall, He will always forgive us, as long as we ask for His forgiveness.  With Jesus, unclean spirits don’t stand a chance and good always wins out over evil.


Homily #158
Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time (B)
Deuteronomy 18:15-20
1 Cor 7:32-35
Mark 1:21-28


About the author: Deacon Chuck

Deacon Chuck was ordained into the permanent diaconate on September 17, 2011, in the ministry of service to the Diocese of Reno and assigned to St. Albert the Great Catholic Community. He currently serves as the parish bulletin editor and website administrator. Deacon Chuck continues to serve the parish of Saint Albert the Great Catholic Community of the Diocese of Reno, Nevada. He is the Director of Adult Faith Formation and Homebound Ministries for the parish, conducts frequent adult faith formation workshops, and is a regular homilist. He currently serves as the bulletin editor for the parish bulletin. He writes a weekly column intended to encompass a broad landscape of thoughts and ideas on matters of theology, faith, morals, teachings of the magisterium and the Catholic Church; they are meant to illuminate, illustrate, and catechize the readers and now number more than 230 articles. His latest endeavor is "Colloqui: A journal for restless minds", a weekly journal of about 8 pages similar in content to bulletin reflections. All his reflections, homilies, commentaries, and Colloqui are posted and can be found on his website: Comments are always welcome and appreciated. He is the author of two books: "The Voices of God: hearing God in the silence" which offers the reader insights into how to hear God’s voice through all of the noise that surrounds us; and "Echoes of Love: Effervescent Memories" which through a combination of prose and verse provides the reader with a wonderful journey on the way to discovering forever love. He regularly speaks to groups of all ages and size and would welcome the opportunity to speak to your group.

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