Father Donald Senior, CP

Jan. 24: Third Sunday in Ordinary Time

Wednesday, January 20, 2021

The power of God’s word

Jon 3:1-5, 10; Ps 25:4-5, 6-7, 8-9; 1 Cor 7:29-31; Mk 1:14-20

Some important liturgical events surround this Sunday. In 2019, Pope Francis designated the third Sunday of Ordinary Time as “Word of God Sunday,” a time for the whole church to reflect on the power of God’s Word that comes to us in the Scriptures. The images and narratives and profound teachings of the Bible — particularly its proclamation about Jesus — are the source and ongoing nourishment of our Christian faith. 

This is also the concluding Sunday of the Church Unity Octave, commonly known as the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, which urges all Christians to pray and work for the unity that Jesus longed for on the eve of his passion.

“That they may all be one, as you, Father are in me and I in you, that they also may be in us, that the world may believe that you sent me,” we read in John 17:21. At a time when there is so much need for soul-searching about what it means to be an authentic Christian in the chaos of our public life, this appeal for true unity is all the more relevant.

Although not selected to match these significant dates, the Lectionary readings illustrate both motifs. The first reading is from the Book of Jonah, one of the most enticing books in the Bible. 

Most of us are familiar with the story of Jonah, only a portion of which is read in this Sunday’s selection. At a time when the people of Israel were turned too much on themselves, the author tells the story of the reluctant prophet Jonah in a way filled with irony and humor. 

The Ninevites, inhabitants of the capital city of Assyria (present-day Iraq), personified the hostile opponents of Israel. When Jonah is commissioned by God to preach to them and save them by persuading them to repent of their evil deeds, he is so disgusted by the task that he heads in the other direction and takes a sea voyage to escape God’s call. 

As the wonderful story goes, God threatens the ship with a major storm, ultimately leading the sailors to toss Jonah overboard. Swallowed by a giant fish, Jonah is spit back upon the shore and faced with having to do what God asked of him. 

Eventually Jonah preaches to the Ninevites and, much to his disappointment, the Ninevites actually do repent and are saved. The story concludes with Jonah feeling sorry for himself. God chides the reluctant prophet for not respecting his own care for the confused Ninevites, and, with a final punch line God adds, “not to mention all the cattle.”

The major lesson of this delightful biblical book is clear: While we may nurse our differences with others and despise our opponents, God’s care crosses boundaries and embraces all peoples. To be entrusted with God’s Word means proclaiming and enacting reconciliation.

The Gospel passage from Mark echoes the readings from last Sunday that focused on the Gospel of John’s version of the call of the first disciples. Here Mark narrates the opening scene of Jesus’ public ministry as he enters Galilee and proclaims the advent of God’s reign. 

The metaphor of the reign or kingdom of God was the keynote of Jesus’ mission and evoked the longing of Israel for ultimate peace and justice that God alone could ensure. 

Jesus’ words of reconciliation and his powerful healings reveal the beauty of what life in the kingdom of God could be.

The first thing Jesus does in Mark’s account is call the disciples to take part in this transformative mission. Ordinary fishermen, Simon and his brother Andrew, James and his brother John, have their lives turned upside down when Jesus calls them to leave their labors and to follow him. 

They will continue their noble labor of fishing but now, with Jesus, “fishing for people.” They will heal the sick, reconcile those in enmity, effect justice for those oppressed and neglected.

The power of God’s Word, the hunger for reconciliation and unity, the invitation to follow God’s call to us are all converging motifs on this Sunday that give us a glimpse of our Christian vocation.


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