4th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B

We have two beautiful homilies by Father Hanly for 4th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B: our favourite “The Unclean Spirit” and “St Mark’s Gospel.”

Two Homilies:

The Unclean Spirit

The Unclean Spirit

Father Hanly’s wonderful homily for 4th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B, is about Jesus and the man with the unclean spirit. We feel this is one of Father’s most important homilies, because, after explaining the setting, Father reveals what is at the heart of this Gospel and Jesus’s role in all our lives.

Readings for Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B

  • First Reading: Deuteronomy 18:15-20
  • Responsorial Psalm: Psalms 95:1-2, 6-7, 7-9
  • Second Reading: First Corinthians 7:32-35
  • Gospel: Mark 1:21-28



Today I’m wearing red in honour of the Chinese New Year. And, as I mentioned before, as you know, today is the seventh day of the lunar year. That means that all of you are one year older today. The Chinese make you grow old fast. (Congregation laughs.)

It’s also a good time to read this kind of a Gospel.

As you know, we’re reading St Mark’s Gospel. Very simple. Very direct. You have to pay attention to each little place, because every place has a double meaning.

And everything that he says is pared down to give you just one thought: that Jesus is the Messiah, Jesus is the Christos, the Christ, Jesus is the Holy One of God.

And then Mark will say to you after each episode, “Do you believe this?”

And he turns his back, in a way, and he says to you, “And I don’t care. I’m telling you what I saw. I’m telling you what I have come to believe. And I’m giving it to you without any frills.” So it’s called the no-frills Gospel.

For the next four weeks — it’s in February now — the next four weeks we will have Mark leading us along. And all four Sundays have the same theme: the coming of the Kingdom of God.

The first thing that you must remember is that the Kingdom of God is not a place. The Kingdom of God is where God reigns.

And where God reigns is where the Kingdom of God is.

So the first place you look, of course, is in your own heart.

For Jesus when he comes he says, “The Kingdom of God is among you. The Kingdom of God is at the door. The Kingdom of God is within you.”

So Mark will give you, in these four weeks he’ll give you, four stories that, for him, out of the many, many, many incidents in Christ’s life, these four stories will be able to help you understand when Mark says the Kingdom of God he means the Kingdom of God is Jesus himself.

It is the presence of Jesus among us, the presence of the Christos, the Holy One of God, who walks with us as surely now as he did all those hundreds of years ago.

Today is the first reading. The first reading is, you have just finished it, and as you noticed, Jesus and his disciples come to Capernaum.

Now Capernaum is where Peter lives. And Peter, being a fisherman, he lives right on the coastline of the lake of Galilee. It’s called a sea, but it’s a very large lake. And Capernaum is a place that Jesus makes his main base for his time in Galilee.

You could split Mark’s Gospel into two. There is the time in Galilee, and what he does — he preaches and teaches all around the Sea of Galilee — and then there is the time when he goes up to the north and he sets himself on the long journeys in and around the northern part of Palestine and in other areas, and then the final journey is he sets his face to Jerusalem where he shall die and, on the third day, according to his promise, rise from the dead.

But we’re in Galilee. Galilee is close by to all the favourite places that other authors find after him and have much more to say, the other Gospel writers.

It is the place, just down the road from Capernaum is the mountain where Jesus himself gave the Sermon on the Mount. The Sea of Galilee, where all the great sea stories are told. The people gather around in the different villages and towns of Galilee, and they hear the word of Jesus which is the word of God.

So, today, we’re in Capernaum, the beginning of his Galilean expedition as it were.

He comes to Capernaum, a little fishing village, and is probably staying with Peter there. And whenever he’s in and around the Sea of Galilee, he comes home with Peter to his house.

And at this time, it’s the Sabbath day and he enters the synagogue.

As you know, the synagogue is a house of prayer. There’s only one temple and it’s in Jerusalem, the place of worship of Yahweh, but the Jews gathered together each Saturday to pray, as we do each Sunday in a church, or in a house, or if you’re Jewish, in a synagogue.

Our churches are based on the architecture of the temple and the synagogues. The synagogue is where they hear the word of the Old Testament and they hear all the old stories and they prayed the psalms and famous preachers come and preach.

Jesus must have been preaching around the area a little bit, because he was invited as a guest preacher, an itinerant preacher, that nobody knew too much about but that he came from Nazareth which was about forty miles further south.

And so they were somewhat familiar and they also knew that he had a group of disciples with him already: Peter and Andrew, James and John, and some of the others.

If you go to Capernaum, you can see the outlines of the original town of Capernaum, and you can also see they excavated two layers, well below the surface, and they came across perhaps the original synagogue in which Jesus spoke to the people on this day.

Mark says Jesus came to Capernaum on the Sabbath.

He entered the synagogue and he taught.

And everybody is saying, “I wonder what he said.”

But Mark won’t tell you. Mark is not telling you what he said. Because for a very, for what would strike you at first as a strange reason, but later on you begin to understand.

You see the Kingdom of God is not a book. The Kingdom of God is not a series of lectures given by a famous rabbi. The Kingdom of God is a person.

And what people do are two things when they communicate the great truths of God. They teach it. And they live it.

So in Mark, right from the very beginning, he’s telling you not so much what he says. Watch what he does and you will understand that the Kingdom of God is among you.

Because, while we do a lot of teaching, it’s usually reserved for schools, synagogues, television, places where things are not really too important.

But if you want to know what the preacher believes in, and cares about, and loves, and what he does, you could listen to what he has to say, but, as everybody knows, actions speak much louder than words.

And Mark is that kind of a Gospel.

Jesus goes from place to place. And every place he goes there’s a purpose for going there. And what he says, there’s a purpose for what he says there.

But, most of all, what he does is what makes you fully understand and realize this is not the ordinary itinerant preacher that the people of Capernaum were blessed to hear that day.

Mark tells us that when he spoke they were astonished.

It’s more important to know that the crowd was astonished than what Jesus said.


Because Jesus is the Kingdom of God and when he spoke he spoke direct to the heart and he touched them and he moved them in ways that none of the ancient books and none of the old rabbis and none of the eloquent men in from Jerusalem all the way up to Capernaum ever spoke before.

And they just were in awe, because this was a man who spoke with authority.

What kind of authority?

Well, if you listen carefully to the First Reading, it was an authority based on God speaking to Moses.

Moses spoke for God. No-one else spoke for God except Moses. The people didn’t collect material and argue about what Moses said, because what Moses said was from the mouth of God. From God’s heart to Moses’ mouth. And that was the message of the Old Testament.

And then when Moses was growing old, God said to him, “Moses, I will send someone with the same authority, who will come after me and he will be the Holy One.”

And so the people hungered and longed for the day that someone would come, who would speak with authority.

He would speak with the head, yes, but mostly with the heart, and the two together. And people would listen and be astounded and wonder where he’d got these words.

And those who had read the Old Testament and the Book of Deuteronomy, they would know that God has fulfilled his promises and here stands Jesus.

Now one of the men, a sickly man, one they said with an unclean spirit…

The word unclean means he was not allowed to go into the temple for some reason to pray, but they accepted him in the back of the synagogue because he was a Jew.

Unclean sometimes is used when they’re talking about devil possession and many, many other ways of speaking about it.

But Mark lets you kind of understand that this was a man who was mentally upset, who was physically, perhaps, in need of curing, but, most of all, he was in fire with his own spirit, that there was a wrestling going on, and, at times, he would shout out in the middle of the service and say these things.

And this was a telling thing to say that day, for when he heard Jesus, he was the only one who cried out and said, “What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know you are the Holy One of God.”

And everything quieted down.

And Jesus went over to him. He didn’t yell at him, but he forbad him to speak and he said, “Be quiet.”

And then he says these words: “Come out of him.”

And suddenly the man was thrown down to the ground and he was kicking and screaming.

And finally he was calmed down and whatever it was within the unclean man with the unclean spirit had disappeared.

And a very great silence fell upon the crowd.

And then the people said all were amazed and all asked one another: “What is this? This is a new teaching with authority. He commands even the unclean spirits and they obey him.”

And this was his first visit to Capernaum’s synagogue.

But there’s something that Mark wants you to understand.

He doesn’t want you to think that this man is possessed by some demon from outer space. He doesn’t want you to think that using the language of that time that this was something extraordinary coming down from heaven and inflicting this person.

He wants us to think that this man is us.

You see Mark always has this in his mind: I am not telling you stories. I’m telling you I’m confronting you with Christ himself.

And he stands before this man distraught and torn and screaming and throwing to fits on the floor and totally disarranged. And he stands there with great kindness and great sympathy and great understanding and he says, “Come out of him.”

Very often when we speak of disturbed people, we speak in the same language. We feel that people who are disturbed, including ourselves, are torn by loneliness, are depressed by the extravagant difficulty of living and the terrible pain to have to endure even the slightest reaching out for help.

There are people whose minds are torn, whose emotions are falling apart. There are people who have felt distress and loneliness and the terrors of war and fear for their children and fears for their future. And they are just bundles of neurotic difficulties and tensions.

And Mark wants you to know that this man was such a man.

With what? What kind? Was he possessed by the devil?

You say, “Yes.”

Was he torn by a childhood of distress and want and need and nothing ever satisfying?


Was he someone who was frightened, frightened to go out of his own house to walk among the people like a free man?

What was binding him? What was making him, even in his own heart, very unhappy — even though he wanted to be happy, he just maybe didn’t know the trick.

What was tearing at his peace, the peace that God wanted to give him, the peace that God wanted to heal him with?

And then, all of a sudden, on this day, he’s in this place, the synagogue, and Jesus stands before him and says to all the demons flying around in his soul, “Be quiet and leave him.”

And then he becomes calm and quiet and at peace.

Now, this is the introduction of the Kingdom of God into the town of Galilee.

This is the introduction of the one who will stand before us in those dreadful and difficult moments of our lives when we feel bereft of any hope of peace or future or past or present.

And it is he who has the power to say, “Be quiet. Leave him.”

And the life of God and the hope of God and the love of God will flood into him once again so that he can indeed become a human being.

So what Mark is saying is: When Jesus comes, it is God Himself.

And he brings with him the peace of God, the love of God, the forgiveness of God, the caring of God, the power of God, the strength of God.

And, this is what Jesus comes, and he comes not to give it with his hands, but to become one with this man.

One in spirit; one, later, even in body. One with him as he is one with us today.

And what Mark, every time he goes to Mass in those early days, I am sure, when he is with a group, he will recall the time that the real meaning of why we are gathered together is because we know our need for God.

And we know that no matter what happens to us, what kind of circumstances we find ourselves, we know that God is with us to heal us, to fill us with new courage, new strength, and, most of all, the way of his life, the way of love.

St Mark’s Gospel

St Mark’s Gospel

In this beautiful homily for 4th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B, Father Hanly sheds light on what St Mark is trying to teach us in the Gospel according to St Mark.

Readings for Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B

  • First Reading: Deuteronomy 18:15-20
  • Responsorial Psalm: Psalms 95:1-2, 6-7, 7-9
  • Second Reading: First Corinthians 7:32-35
  • Gospel: Mark 1:21-28



As you all know, St Mark is the writer of the Gospel. You might not know, however, that St Mark had a kind of questionable history.

When he was a young man, he went off with St Paul and his uncle on the first trip of St Paul. And he got cold feet on the way out and he wanted to go home early, whining all the time, I suppose. So St Paul got so mad at him that he argued with his uncle and said, “Next time we don’t take him.”

And that’s what happened the second trip, the famous voyage of St Paul, the little guy was not invited. And so his uncle got very angry and he went off to another place and he broke a wonderful friendship between he and Paul.

Anyhow that shows you that everybody is human.

This little boy, though, grew up and he got himself a very good job. He was St Peter’s secretary and it took place in Rome. And so when you listen to St Mark’s Gospels this year, you remember that you’re hearing the stories that Peter told him in the long time that he was the secretary for St Peter in Rome.

I like St Mark. Of all the writers, in a way, I like him. He’s the shortest. If you sit down now, you go home and you open up St Mark and you start reading…

And you have to read it out loud. The Gospels should be read out loud. They were meant for people to hear, not to be looking in books.

And the thing about Mark is that you could read the whole Gospel according to St Mark in about an hour and ten minutes from beginning to end. But you’ve got to keep going. You can’t pause to think about anything.

And you’ll have a remarkable experience. Because St Mark abbreviates, he telescopes. Other writers write a little bit more and speak a little bit more verbose, but not Mark.

He just says, and he gives you this feeling when you’re reading it, he’ll say something like, “Jesus is Lord and Master and I’m going to tell you about that now.”

And then as if, he doesn’t say it but, “You can take it or leave it. I’m not going to run after you and convince you. I’m not trying to save your soul. I’m just telling you that this man, when I was with him,” and he was just a young little boy, “when I was with him, this is what he meant to me.”

And that’s the Gospel. And so it’s full of twists and turns.

At the very beginning, Mark will say that he has come to tell us about Jesus of Nazareth. He comes right to the point: he is the Son of God and he is among us and this is his story, and then he tells the story.

The first story of the four stories that we follow in the next four weeks, the first story is Jesus comes into Capernaum. This is the home of St Peter. And, of course, he stays with St Peter.

St Peter has been called by Jesus, last week. He, Peter, and James and John and Andrew.

Peter and Andrew were brothers. The older brother was Andrew, and Peter was the second brother. They became disciples, called round their boat. They were fishing, and all of a sudden, Jesus walked by and he said, “Come follow me.” And they left everything, dropped everything and went off.

And he went on a little further. And there was James and John, another two brothers, and John is the writer of the fourth Gospel. James and he, they were washing their nets, and Jesus walks by and he says, “Come follow me,” and they follow him, leaving everything. We don’t even know if they went home. They were the sons of Zebedee.

Sounds kind of strange.

Not if you know Mark.

Because, you see, Mark doesn’t believe that you follow Jesus because you’re convinced that he gave you nice homilies. You know, you sit back and you wait and “Oh, what a nice homily. I think I’ll try. I think I’ll hang around and maybe spend a few days with him, see if I like him.” He doesn’t feel that this is a call from God.

The other thing that we get from this reading, now listen very carefully, the reading says this:

Then they came to Capernaum,
and on the sabbath Jesus entered the synagogue…

That’s, of course, where the Jewish people pray. There was only one temple at that time, and only one temple allowed, and that was in Jerusalem, and that’s where the sacrifices took place and the high altars were. And many, many other expressions of ritual and liturgy took place there and it was where Jews felt that God dwelt the most, in the Holy of Holies.

But we’re talking about on a Saturday, the Jews would gather in smaller structures as we know today as synagogues. There’s three or four or five of them all over Hong Kong.

So they’re in the synagogue and then Mark says,

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.

But he never tells you what Jesus said. You haven’t noticed that, but he never says, “This is what he taught and this is how he taught.”

And why would it be like this?

Because, for Mark, you don’t follow Jesus because you’ve been reading a nice book, or you’ve been studying at the university, or you’re doing… It doesn’t work that way.

Jesus walks by and says, “Follow me,” and you follow him.

And why is that?

It’s because, as everybody knows, when you learn from experience, you learn. When you learn from a book, well, you might learn a little, maybe, if you’re in a good mood, if you’ve got an exam to study for. But it’s not an experience; it’s not something that touches your heart.

And Jesus will have no-one follow him because they have an intellectual idea that he’s a wonderful kind of person and he’s got a lot of friends and I’d like to be with him and all these other things.

You either give him your whole life or you don’t follow him at all.

Sounds tough, but it isn’t.

Because if you look back as a little child, how, before you got those high class educations, you did things because you said, “Yes!” That was the word.

“Would you like to go with Uncle Charlie to the movies?”


You didn’t have to say, “Well now, Uncle Charlie is six foot two, blah, blah, blah, and he’s had a bad background, blah, blah, blah, and he has come to the house, blah, blah, blah, and he’s going to invite you, blah, blah, blah.” (Chuckles.)

This is not the way it works. Uncle Charlie is there and he’s going to take you to the movies and you love the movies.

The word is love. Love doesn’t come up gradually because now you understand and you’d like to be with these people and all of this. Love is much more dangerous than this.

It’s you just say, this person walks by and you say, “I’ve got to be with that one.”

And you say, “Well, what about your wife and family and all these other things?”

They come later. It doesn’t mean you abandon them, but at that time there’s one solid feeling, that he’s touched my heart and I embrace it, for better for worse, for richer for poorer. It’s like a marriage – an immediate marriage.

Does that mean that people don’t gradually fall in love?

No, no, no, it doesn’t mean that. But it means that many people who study the Scriptures think Jesus is a wonderful person, “Oh, he’s so (inaudible), he preaches such nice things, and then he dies for us.”

They think that that is being a Christian.

It’s not.

A Christian is walking with Jesus, walking with him, judging things the way he sees it.

You don’t want to love people, you want to love the way Jesus loves. You don’t want to move kind of with a question mark in the back of your head and keep testing whether this is the right thing or this is the wrong thing, or maybe, or perhaps.

When Jesus says, “Come, follow me”…

Like the poor rich man. The rich man, he approached Jesus and he says, “What can I do to be saved?”

Nice thought, you know. “What can I do to be saved?” Saved means maybe go to heaven or be healed or something like that.

And Jesus says, “Well, keep the commandments.”

And he says, “I’ve done all that.”

And then Jesus says, “Well, there’s one thing left.”

And then he says to the rich young man, he says, “Sell all that you have and give it away to the poor, and come follow me.”

The poor guy kind of laughs, because he had lots of money and he wasn’t used to doing anything except calculate how he’s spending your money carefully so that you do the right things.

He just said, “Throw it away,” Jesus says to him.

That’s what Mark is telling us, for the rest of the time, for the rest of the year, he’s going to say.

Now they go into the synagogue and he taught.

And what Mark is telling you, he’s not talking with words, he’s talking through what he does.

So to understand Jesus you don’t say, “Well, are his arguments complete?”

You say, “I love you.” Or you watch what he does.

Now look carefully and we just have the first example of how it’s done.

The people were astounded at his teaching.

You don’t get astounded from reading a book. I never was astounded by reading a book. Something had to happen – I saw something in real life, two people, man falling off a bridge or something, then you get astounded, yes?

The people were astonished at his teaching,
for he taught them as one having authority and not as the scribes.

Now you wouldn’t know this, but one having authority to a Jew is basically God.

So, for instance, when a Jewish preacher even today preaches, he would say, “As the Lord says in Chapter 12 of Deuteronomy…” You see? He’s got to have someone to back him up. If you don’t have some kind of force like the Lord or Moses or somebody very important to back you up, what you have to say isn’t worth anything.

And that’s different from the Scribes. Whenever the Scribes taught, they would say, “As Moses taught us…” or “At the time of King David, as so and so taught us…” And that would mean that what I have to say is really very important.

What Jesus does is this,

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!”

What he is, is a disturbed man, a man in great conflict, a man who doesn’t know what his next move is, a man who does not feel at home in the synagogue, an enemy maybe of God, or not even an enemy but just confused by it all.

But you know this man is really hurting and that’s why he’s screaming in the synagogue where you’re not supposed to scream. And he’s crying out for help.

And so what does Jesus do?

He walks up to him and he says,

“Quiet! Come out of him!”

meaning let go of all this anger and hatred and remorse and all of the things that are turning you and churning you around.

And then

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.

It means that it is God Himself who is healing this man through Jesus, through what he himself…

Because we know that Jesus loves, we know that Jesus has compassion.

We know that these things are not written in books. We know that when he walks, he has a radiation of “all is forgiven, do not worry, there’s hope here.”

You don’t have to write these things up and memorise them and say them. It’s the presence of Jesus.

What Mark is doing is he’s talking to you. He’s not talking to what happened.

He’s saying that when you’re filled with turmoil, when you feel that you have no hope left and you’ve reached the end, when something has happened you can’t face, or you’re troubled in the heart and troubled in the mind, what you do is you say, “Jesus, you understand.”

Not “Cure me.”

“Jesus, you understand.”

Because that’s why God had to send His Son.

If He didn’t send His Son, what would we say?

We’d say it’s all very well for God because He can turn on His television set and He wouldn’t feel any pain or anything.

It isn’t that.

What is it then?

It is the presence of the Risen Lord that moves through the world. And this is what cures and this is what enables people to once again turn back to be with him and walk with him.

And why do we walk with him and be with him?

Because we want to learn how to love. Very simple.

The solution to everything is to love, but love the way Jesus loves.

And now Matthew and Mark, Luke and John, will tell you all these wonderful stories.

But if you think they happened centuries ago and have no connection with you, they’re wasting their time.

Because the Gospel is the good news, and the good news is Jesus says, “I am with you now until the end of time and I offer you God’s forgiveness, God’s compassion, God’s love.”

And you say, “Yeah, but I don’t think… nah, nah, nah.”

“Don’t worry. Just walk with me. And, if you fall down, get up again. I will be there to lift you and carry you. And you can walk the next few steps.”

There was a great writer, Malcolm Muggeridge. He used to write for one of the British papers and he was a very cynical kind of person and he was going to expose Mother Teresa. That was his object, was to go all the way over to India and expose her for the fraud that she was, you see.

So he went all the way over to India and he went down to where Mother Teresa works and he sat and he begins to figure out, writing on his paper, what’s wrong with her, blah, blah, blah.

And, all of a sudden, he stops writing and he falls in love, just like that. He listens to her and he falls in love. And then he stays there, not for a couple of days, not for a couple of weeks, but for a couple of years.

And the old cynical us would go up to him and say, “You’re a changed man. What happened?”

And he said, he would always say the same thing, “She speaks the truth.” She speaks the truth. When she talks, she speaks the truth.

Now, that is what Jesus does for us.

He comes to speak into our hearts the truth, the truth of ourselves, the truth of life. And it is filled with the good news, for it’s forgiving and loving and encouraging.

And so whenever they kind of laughed at Malcolm Muggeridge and they say, “What has she got that we don’t have?”

And he says, “When you hear the truth, your heart leaps and you hold it fast.”

So, today, we begin Mark, and we’ll slowly go through the different four readings, one story after another.

But always remember this about Mark: he fell in love, despite all the pain that he got from St Paul and the people of his time, he fell in love with Jesus.

And St Peter took him under his arms, brought him to Rome, and that’s why we have the Gospel according to Mark, which is really the Gospel according to St Peter.

And the lovely part about it is that you go through it, it is short, abrupt, but it always speaks the truth, but it always speaks the truth in love.


FAQ for Homily for 4th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B

When is 4th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B, in 2024?28th January 2024
What is the title of Father Hanly’s homily for Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B?"The Unclean Spirit" and "St Mark’s Gospel"
What is the next homily by Father Hanly in this Liturgical Cycle?
5th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B
Who was Father Hanly?Father Denis J. Hanly was a Maryknoll Missionary
How can we find other homilies by Father Hanly?By Liturgical Calendar or by topic or by title

Information about Father Hanly’s homilies for 4th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B

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If you would like to use our transcripts of either of these sermons (updated 2023), please contact us for permission.

Father Hanly's sermon for 4th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B, "The Unclean Spirit" was delivered on 1st February 2009. Father Hanly's sermon for 4th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B, "St Mark’s Gospel" was delivered on 29th January 2012. It is sometimes hard to accurately transcribe Father Hanly's reflections, so please let us know if you think we have made a mistake in any of our transcripts, and let us have your suggestions.

We hope that Father Hanly’s homilies, always kind, always wise, always full of love, will restore you to peace and harmony through a new understanding of what is important in this world. We believe these homilies are inspiring for everyone, not only for Roman Catholics or other Christians.

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