3rd Sunday in Ordinary Time Year B – January 21, 2024


3rd Sunday in Ordinary Time Year B – January 21, 2024

The Sunday of the Word of God

Jonah 3: 1-5, 10; 1 Corinthians 7: 29-31; Mark 1: 14-20


Theme: God Calls Us to Repentance and Discipleship

One couple invited their parish priest for dinner, and they wanted him to bless their new and unique Bible. They prepared a $50 bill to give to the priest. The money was on the table while they were eating. Just after dinner, the money disappeared. They were a hundred percent sure that the priest stole it because there was nobody else in the house. Disappointed, they decided to leave the Church. After three months, the pastor met the wife and wanted to know why they stopped coming to the Church.  The wife told him, “You stole the money that we even prepared to give you”, the wife said. The priest told her, “Why did you not ask me since then? I put that money underneath your new Bible lest the soup sprinkle on it.” The wife was ashamed and embarrassed. When she arrived home, she found the money as the priest said. This story is not because this couple falsely accused their pastor, but because for three months their new Bible was not used. They never read it. In his Apostolic Letter, Motu Proprio Aperuit Illis, published on September 30th, 2019, Pope Francis establishes that every “Third Sunday in Ordinary Time is to be devoted to the celebration, study, and dissemination of the Word of God.” So, today is the Third Sunday in Ordinary Time. We celebrate then the Sunday of the Word of God (Bible). The Church encourages you and me to read our Bibles regularly. If this couple in our story used their Bible, they would have seen the $50 bill that the priest placed underneath it, and they would not have left the Church. When we read the Bible, we read God. When we touch the Bible, we touch God. When we listen to the Scripture readings, like now in this Mass, we listen to God, and when we study the Bible, we study God. The Bible is the Word of God. Saint Jerome, who translated the whole Bible from Greek into Latin said, “Ignorance of Scripture is ignorance of Christ.” We cannot pretend to know Jesus if we do not read and listen to the Word of God. Let us become familiar with the Word of God. 

Talking about the Scripture readings of this Sunday, we first need to note that today we start a continuous reading of the first chapter of the Gospel according to Mark. We skip the prologue, which covers the preaching of John the Baptist, the baptism of Jesus by John the Baptist, and the temptation of Jesus by Satan in the desert (vv. 1-13). We start with the beginning of Jesus’ ministry in Galilee during which he called his first four disciples. They were fishermen and Jesus promised to transform them from fishermen to fishers of men (today’s Gospel, vv. 14-20). Next Sunday, we will see the first experience of these newly called disciples with Jesus. For the first time, they will experience Jesus preaching with authority and driving out demons with power in a synagogue (next Sunday, vv. 21-28). On the following Sunday, the new disciples will experience Jesus healing many sick and possessed people in Peter and John’s house, starting with Peter’s mother-in-law (Sunday, February 4th, vv. 29-39). Our continuous reading of the first chapter of Mark will conclude with Jesus curing a man with leprosy (Sunday, February 11th, vv. 40-45). That Sunday also will mark the end of the first part of the Ordinary Time as we will start the Lenten Season followed by the Easter Season. Our journey of growth in the Ordinary Time will resume after the feast of Pentecost (May 19th).

Why does the Church suggest the meditation of this first chapter of Mark in this first part of the Ordinary Time? Note that these continuous readings show us that the newly called disciples needed a training formation to learn what it means to be “fishers of men” or apostles of Jesus. We too are the new disciples since we renewed our relationship with God in the Nativity of our Lord Jesus that we celebrated on Christmas last month. Now, in this Ordinary Time (34 Sundays) that we started after the feast of the Baptism of Jesus, our Holy Mother Church calls us to grow up in our relationship with God and learn what it means to be Jesus’ disciples. That is why the liturgical color during this Ordinary Time is green symbolizing growth. Like the first four disciples, let us take advantage of this Ordinary Time to journey with Jesus, learn from him, and grow up in our faith and our discipleship.  

Now let us analyze our Scripture readings of today. This Sunday’s Bible readings talk about two of God’s calls and our responses. The first call is a call for repentance. In the Gospel, Jesus invites us to repent and believe in the “gospel” because the kingdom of God is at hand. In our first reading, Prophet Jonah walked throughout the city of Nineveh calling the people to an urgent repentance to experience God’s mercy. And Saint Paul, in the second reading, encourages the believers of Corinth and all of us to repent urgently because time is running out and the world in its present form is passing away. The second call is the call for discipleship. God still needs the men and women today who are willing to bring the Gospel to our fellow humans and call them to repentance. God calls you and me as he called Jonah, in our first reading, and as Jesus called the first four disciples, in our Gospel reading. What are our responses to these two calls of God (calls for repentance and discipleship)?  Let us analyze our readings. They will inspire us to give authentic responses to God’s calls to us.

Our Gospel passage can be divided into two parts. The first part (vv. 14-15) talks about the call for repentance and the second part (vv. 16-20) concerns the call for discipleship. In the first part, Mark commences by telling us that Jesus started his ministry in Galilee after John had been arrested. This is his first ever teaching. The first topic that he preaches is “Repentance”. He starts by saying that his time is the time of fulfillment, the kingdom of God is at hand, therefore, we need to repent. Jesus is the fulfillment of all that the Laws and Prophets taught in the Old Testament. His incarnation and presence among us we celebrated last month at Christmas marked the beginning of the kingdom of God. Jesus came to invite people to become members or citizens of God’s kingdom that he started. The passport that certifies our heavenly citizenship is our repentance and faith in the Word of God. “Repent and believe in the gospel” (v. 15).  From its Greek origin, eu (good) and angelion (news), the “gospel” here means “Good News”, which is the Whole Bible, the Word of God. Repentance and faith go together. They both make us citizens of God’s kingdom. Repentance leads to faith in the Word of God. Likewise, faith in the Word of God leads to repentance. To believe in the Word of God, we first need to know it and become familiar with it. That is why, on this Sunday of the Word of God, Our Holy Mother Church encourages us to regularly read, study, meditate, and pray with the Scriptures to know what God speaks to us in the Bible. I invite you all to participate in the Liturgical Weekly Bible Study that I teach every Friday at 5:00 p.m. Central time in person and virtual via Zoom.

Prophet Jonah also, in our first reading, called the inhabitants of Nineveh to repentance as the only way to experience God’s mercy. The narrator of this reading tells us that the people in Nineveh believed in God and repented immediately just on the first day (out of three days) of Jonah’s preaching. This detail shows the urgent character of this call for repentance. Saint Paul, in our second reading, stresses this urgency when he uses the rhetorical speech asking married couples to act as not being married, those weeping as not weeping, those rejoicing as not rejoicing, those buying as not owning, and those using the world as not using it fully. The reason for acting like that is because time is running out and the world in its present form is passing away, says Saint Paul (1 Corinthians 7: 29-31). Note that here Paul is speaking rhetorically and not literally. He is not asking the married to live celibately. Nor does he mean that we should not weep and rejoice in moments of grief and joy. The usage of rhetorical speech emphasizes the urgency character of repentance that God calls us to.

The second part of our Gospel (vv. 16-20) concerns the second call, which is the call for discipleship. Because we cannot be selfish in working on our own salvation, this second part of the Gospel calls us to become Jesus’ disciples to invite our brothers and sisters also to join us in the heavenly kingdom. Marks tells us that Jesus called his first four disciples while he was passing by the Sea of Galilee. Four of them were fishermen. Jesus’ call changed their status from fishermen to fishers of men. The narrator tells us that upon hearing Jesus’ call, these four men abandoned their nets, left their father (in the case of James and John), and followed Jesus. This detail does not mean that to be Jesus’ disciples we must completely break from our families and jobs. Rather, it teaches us that our relationship to earthly things is secondary to our relationships with God. This second part of our Gospel, first, reminds us that Jesus continues to call us in the same way he called these four men. Second, it exhorts us to consider and respond to this call instantly.

God calls us to repentance and discipleship. Repentance and discipleship go together. We repent to become Jesus’ disciples, and we are Jesus’ disciples to call other people to repent and believe in the Word of God. Our responses to both repentance and discipleship must be immediate. To do that, the Church encourages us to become familiar with the Word of God. May the liturgy of this Mass enable us to repent and follow Jesus. Amen.

Rev. Leon Ngandu, SVD

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