31 January 2021

‘Preach the Gospel at all times,
and when necessary use words’

‘Preach the Gospel at all times, and when necessary use words,’ Saint Francis of Assisi … ‘The Vision of Saint Francis’ (ca 1590-1595) by El Greco in the National Gallery of Ireland (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

Sunday 31 January 2021,

The Fourth Sunday after the Epiphany

10 a.m., The Parish Eucharist

The Readings: Deuteronomy 18: 15-20; Psalm 111; Mark 1: 21-28.

‘When the sabbath came, he entered the synagogue and taught’ (Mark 1: 21) … the Old Synagogue in Krakow, built in 1407, is the oldest Jewish house of prayer in Poland (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

May I speak to you in the name of God, + Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Amen

This morning’s Gospel reading (Mark 1: 21-28) is the story of Christ’s visit to Capernaum, where he preaches and teaches in the synagogue. When he speaks, all are astounded at his teaching. But when he actually puts what he says it into practice, they are all amazed.

Christ not only teaches, but he puts it into practice, he teaches not just with knowledge, but with authority; not only can he say, but he can do.

In our Sunday readings over the past few weeks, we have heard how Christ has called his first disciples, Andrew and Simon Peter, Philip and Nathanael, and the sons of Zebedee, James and John. Now, this morning’s Gospel reading tells us how Christ’s authority, in both word and deed, are first recognised.

Christ and his new disciples go to Capernaum, a prosperous town on the Sea of Galilee. It was the practice in the synagogue on Saturdays for the scribes, who specialised in the interpretation and application of Mosaic law to daily life, to quote scripture and tradition.

On this Saturday, however, Christ does not follow this practice. Instead, he speaks directly, confident of his authority and of his very essence. The Greek word here, ἐξουσία (exousía), has the same roots as the word in the Nicene Creed that is translated as ‘being’ or ‘substance’: ‘of one substance with the Father’ (ὁμοούσιον τῷ Πατρί).

The ‘man with an unclean spirit’ (verse 23) was, we might say, possessed, or under the influence of evil forces. In the understanding of the time, he was under Satan’s direction, separated from God.

The devil is heard speaking through this man (verse 24), asking what Christ is doing meddling in the domain of evil. He recognises who Christ is and that his coming spells the end of the power of the devil. He understands the significance of the coming Kingdom. Wonder-workers of the day healed using ritual or magic, but Christ exorcises simply through verbal command (verse 25), so clearly he is divine.

The crowd now acknowledges Christ’s ‘authority’ in word and deed (verse 27).

The parallel reading of this story in Saint Luke’s Gospel (Luke 4: 31-37) follows the story of Christ preaching in the synagogue in Nazareth (Luke 4: 16-30), when he proclaims the foundational text for his ministry, almost like a manifesto:

18 ‘The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me
to bring good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives
and recovery of sight to the blind,
to let the oppressed go free,
19 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.’

These are high ideals and, if put into practice, threaten social stability and the ordering of society. This threat is realised by those who hear him, and they drive him out of the synagogue in Capernaum.

Driven out of that synagogue, Christ has three options:

1, To allow himself to be silenced.

2, To keep on preaching in other synagogues, but to never put into practice what he says, so that those who are worried have their fears allayed and realise he is no threat;

3, To preach and to put his teachings into practice, to show that he means what he says, that his faith is reflected in his priorities, to point to what the Kingdom of God is truly like.

Christ takes the third option. He brings good news to the poor, he releases this poor captive, he can now see things as they are and as they ought to be, the oppressed may go free, and all are amazed.

There is a saying attributed to Saint Francis of Assisi: ‘Preach the Gospel at all times, and when necessary use words.’

Christ preaches with authority. But in this Gospel reading we are not told what he said. We are only told what he did.

In his actions he demonstrates the love of God and the love of others that are at the heart of the Gospel, that should be at the heart of every sermon I preach. For the love of God and the love of others are the two commandments on which hang all the law and the prophets.

And so, may all we think, say and do be to the praise, honour and glory of God, + Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Amen.

‘When the sabbath came, he entered the synagogue and taught’ (Mark 1: 21) … Hillview on Wolfe Tone Street, a former synagogue in Limerick (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Mark 1: 21-28 (NRSVA):

21 They went to Capernaum; and when the sabbath came, he entered the synagogue and taught. 22 They were astounded at his teaching, for he taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes. 23 Just then there was in their synagogue a man with an unclean spirit, 24 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.’ 25 But Jesus rebuked him, saying, ‘Be silent, and come out of him!’ 26 And the unclean spirit, throwing him into convulsions and crying with a loud voice, came out of him. 27 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.’ 28 At once his fame began to spread throughout the surrounding region of Galilee.

‘At once his fame began to spread throughout the surrounding region’ (Mark 1: 28) … spreading fame and news on a newsstand in Athens (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Liturgical colour: White.

The Penitential Kyries:

God be merciful to us and bless us,
and make his face to shine on us.
Lord, have mercy.
Lord, have mercy.

May your ways be known on earth,
your saving power to all nations.
Christ, have mercy.
Christ, have mercy.

You, Lord, have made known your salvation,
and reveal your justice in the sight of the nations.
Lord, have mercy.
Lord, have mercy.

The Collect of the Day:

Creator God,
who in the beginning
commanded the light to shine out of darkness:
We pray that the light of the glorious gospel of Christ
may dispel the darkness of ignorance and unbelief,
shine into the hearts of all your people,
and reveal the knowledge of your glory
in the face of Jesus Christ our Lord.

Introduction to the Peace:

Our Saviour Christ is the Prince of Peace.
Of the increase of his government and of peace
there shall be no end. (Isaiah 9: 6, 7)


For Jesus Christ our Lord
who in human likeness revealed your glory,
to bring us out of darkness
into the splendour of his light:

Post Communion Prayer:

Generous Lord,
in word and Eucharist we have proclaimed
the mystery of your love.
Help us so to live out our days
that we may be signs of your wonders in the world;
through Jesus Christ our Saviour.


Christ the Son be manifest to you,
that your lives may be a light to the world:

‘At once his fame began to spread throughout the surrounding region’ (Mark 1: 28) … the good and the famous in a line of sculptures on the campus of the University of Limerick (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)


119, Come, thou long-expected Jesus (CD 8)
691, Faithful vigil ended (CD 39)

Scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicised Edition copyright © 1989, 1995, National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide. http://nrsvbibles.org

Material from the Book of Common Prayer is copyright © 2004, Representative Body of the Church of Ireland.

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