Homily January 10th, 2023

Tuesday of the First Week in Ordinary Time – Mk 1:21-28

In today’s Gospel, as Jesus is teaching and working miracles, an unclean spirit shouts out: “I know who you are—the Holy One of God!” (Mk 1:24). I know who you are, he tells Jesus. If we reflect on this, we find two important questions: first, did that evil spirit really know Jesus, and, secondly, applying it to our lives, can we say that we really know Jesus?

            For the first question, if we read carefully, we see that the evil spirit really didn’t know Jesus, and we know this for two reasons: first, notice that the spirit says, “I know who you are,” and not just “I know you.” There’s a big difference between just knowing who someone is, and actually knowing someone. I know who Pope Francis is: he’s the Pope, the head of the Catholic Church, he’s from Argentina. However, I can’t say I know Pope Francis as if I knew him personally. I know who he is, but I don’t really know him. This might seem really minor, but it’s the best way we have in English to express what the spirit says in the original Greek. The word he uses when he says he knows means a knowledge that is always linked to seeing, to sight. [1] In other words, the spirit knows who Jesus is because he’s seen the miracles, and that leads the demon to think that Christ is someone special. This is exactly what Saint Augustine says when he writes: “Jesus made Himself known to the evil spirits only as much as He pleased. . . .  However, He made Himself known not as He did to the angels, who know Him as God . . . but by the earthly effects of His power, and evidences of His mysterious presence.”[2] Saint Thomas Aquinas adds that the demons confessed Jesus to be something special only because they suspected it, and not because they were certain that He was God.[3]

The second way that we can see that the evil spirit really didn’t know Jesus is by the title he uses to address Christ: the spirit calls Jesus “the Holy One of God.” Sure, the title sounds nice, and certainly Jesus is holy and from God, but it’s a vague title. In fact, it appears fairly often in the Old Testament to refer to anyone who had a special relationship with God. Ps 106 uses the phrase to refer to the priest Aaron, 2 Kings uses it for Elisha, and Samson is called the Holy One in Judges.[4] In other words, the spirit can’t see into the depths of Christ; he knows that this man Jesus must be something special because of the miracles, but he doesn’t know how or what that something special is. He doesn’t know Jesus.

            The point of thinking about the evil spirit’s words makes us realize that we, too, need to reflect upon whether or not we really know Jesus. On one hand, it’s impossible for us to know Jesus completely; because He’s God and God is infinite, we’ll never run out of new things to learn and to love about Him. Yet, it’s also true that sometimes our ideas about Jesus and about God cause us problems; we sort of get stuck when we think about Him. Maybe we have an image of God that doesn’t let us continue to grow in our spiritual lives, that doesn’t let us forgive. Or perhaps God is just seen as a divine lawgiver, who doesn’t care about us, or maybe He is like aspirin or a genie, that we pull out when we are hurting or need something. God is much more; He loves us, and wants us to leave behind sin and imperfection so we can have abundant life.

Today, as we think about who God is for us, let us ask for the grace to know Jesus and God the Father as they really are. We ask for this grace through the intercession of Mary, the Mother of God, who knew and loved Jesus better than anyone else.

[1] One lexicon emphasizes that this verb οἶδά means “properly, to see with physical eyes (cf. Ro 1:11), as it naturally bridges to the metaphorical sense: perceiving (‘mentally seeing’).

[2] Cf. The City of God, Bk. 9, Ch. 21.

[3] Cf. ST III, q. 44, a. 1, ad 2.

[4] These are from the Anchor Bible. Ps 106:16.



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