Sunday reflection by Very Reverend Stephen E. Salocks, Rector of Saint John's Seminary - January 24, 2021
Pope Francis has designated the Third Sunday of Ordinary Time as “Word of God Sunday.” In his Apostolic Letter of 30 September 2019, the Holy Father says that devoting this day to the word of God “enables the Church to experience anew how the risen Lord opens up for us the treasury of his word and enables us to proclaim its unfathomable riches before the world.” God’s word comes to us in many ways, but especially when we come together for Mass. The relationship between the Risen Lord, the community of believers, and sacred Scripture is essential to our identity as Christians. Without the Lord who opens our minds to them, it is impossible to understand the Scriptures in depth. Conversely, without the Scriptures, the events of the mission of Jesus and of his Church in this world would remain incomprehensible. Saint Jerome rightly states, “Ignorance of the Scriptures is ignorance of Christ.” Our faith is nourished, encouraged, and strengthened by the Holy Scriptures' teachings. Not only in the Gospels but also throughout the whole body of Scripture, which we call the “Word of God,” Christ is present and speaks to us when the Scriptures are read in the Church.
We are not surprised then when the first line of today's First Reading tells us, “The Word of the Lord came to Jonah.” As we continue to hear the Word proclaimed, we understand that the Word of the Lord also came to the people of Nineveh, and to the people of Galilee, and to Simon Peter and Andrew, James and John.
With regard to the prophet Jonah, we hear a conversation that is already in progress. The prophet rejected the word of God the first time it came to him and directed him to go to proclaim the destruction of Israel’s ancient enemy in Nineveh. The prophet completely ignored the command, fled in the opposite direction, got caught in a storm at sea, got swallowed by a giant fish, and was brought back to the very place he was trying to escape. God again directed Jonah to set out for Nineveh, and this time Jonah obediently went and called the people of Nineveh to repentance. For their part, the people of Nineveh heard the word of God that Jonah delivered to them; they repented and turned from their evil way. Listening and responding to God’s word by changing their ways, both Jonah and the Ninevites experienced the goodness, love, care, and concern for God, even for those who were considered enemies.
The Good News, in both the First Reading and the Gospel, is that our Lord continues to call and to speak a word that at once calls us to repentance and summons us to follow. In the first chapter of Mark's Gospel, we hear that the Word of God came to the people of Galilee as Jesus proclaimed the time of fulfillment and the coming of God’s kingdom. We hear an echo of Jonah’s call to the Ninevites as Jesus calls the people to “repent and believe in the Gospel.” Here is the foundation of Jesus’ preaching. Here is His word, His invitation, and His call to all of us every day of our lives. It is a word of challenge (“repent”) and a word of encouragement (“believe in the Gospel” - the Good News of salvation).
The call of the first disciples helps us understand that the Lord calls us in our lives' ordinary tasks. “Come after me,” Jesus says to Simon Peter and his brother Andrew, and they immediately leave their boats and nets to become fishers of souls. Along with James and John, these first disciples will be joined by others who will follow Jesus and come to know that in him is the fulfillment of God’s word of salvation. Staying with Jesus and abiding with him, Jesus will teach them to be witnesses of God’s coming kingdom who dedicate themselves to the proclamation of God’s Word in the world. What is said about those first disciples is also true for us.
Today, we pray that we will be ever more eager to listen for God’s Word and to make every effort to do God’s will. Mindful of Jesus’ call to repent and believe in the Gospel (words we will hear again on Ash Wednesday, a little over three weeks from now), we resolve, with the help of God, to turn more and more closely toward the Good News Jesus brings us, and in so turning – we will share it with others.