On 30 September 2019, the feast of St. Jerome, who is known for his translation of Scripture and commentaries on the Gospels, Pope Francis, in his Motu Proprio (Apostolic letter) titled ‘Aperuit Illis’ establishes the third Sunday in Ordinary Time as “Sunday of the Word of God” to enable better study and dissemination of the Word of God. In today’s liturgy, Christ is portrayed as an employee who employs us to diffuse his Word through the call to evangelise and preach repentance, for the kingdom of God is at hand. While Pope Francis dedicated this Sunday to the Bible, our study of the Bible this liturgical year focuses more on the Gospel of St. Mark.
St. Mark has the shortest Gospel with sixteen (16) chapters, and is the most direct or succinct, clear and energizing of the four Gospels. Mark did not state how Christ was born or his genealogy, he started with the public ministry of Jesus Christ. After Jesus’s baptism with John, the Spirit of the Lord drove him to the wilderness to be tested by the devil, after which he began to proclaim the message, “The kingdom of God is at hand, repent and believe the Gospel” (Mk 1:15). Christ himself is the Gospel or the good news; the one who proclaims is the one proclaimed or better still, while other prophets preached of the coming of the Messiah, who is Christ, Christ preached of himself.
He established the kingdom of God here on earth because he is the Son of God. In today’s Gospel, after Christ’s preaching on the kingdom of God, the first four disciples left everything and followed him. Simon and Andrew his brother left their nets and followed him. James, the son of Zebedee and John his brother, who were in their boat mending their net, left their father Zebedee and followed him. With this incidence, we can affirm that Christ is a better employer and the disciples were the employees. He had a better job for them than what they were doing, this time around, not only for them to catch fish, but to catch men. Christ employs wherever or whenever he meets you, as he met the disciples.
There is always vacancy in the enterprise of Christ. Mark, in his Gospel presents Christ in two significant figures: As a teacher and as a healer. In establishing the kingdom of God on earth, he went about teaching and preaching the Gospel, beginning from Galilee as we have it in today’s Gospel, (Mark 1:14), to Jerusalem, where he triumphantly entered the city in preparation for his passion, death and resurrection (Mark 11-16). While he goes about preaching and teaching, he healed the sick he encountered and cast out unclean spirit from them.
Hence, everything found in the Gospel of Mark, narrows down to the kingdom of God and to attain the kingdom of God, we must repent and believe the Gospel, that is, to believe in Christ. There are four elements of repentance: first, one must realize his/her action was wrong; second, the person must be sorry for his/her action or error; third, there must be change of attitude to life and lastly, there must be change of action to fit the change of mind. With these elements of repentance, we can say it is a turn around to face a new direction towards God, which was exactly what happened to the people of Nineveh in the first reading.
The first reading from the book of the prophet Jonah, presents to us the Word of God that was preached by an employee Jonah to the people of Nineveh, who after hearing the Word of God, turned from their evil ways. Jonah initially rejects the employment letter given to him to work in God’s vineyard. He never wanted to be a tool for the conversion of the people of Nineveh. For him, Nineveh, which was the capital of Assyria, a super power of that time, that destroyed the Northern kingdom of Israel in 722 BC are worst sinners and should be condemned. In the pericope of today, “Jonah arose and went to Nineveh, according to the word of God” with the message, “Yet forty days and Nineveh shall be overthrown!” (Jonah 3:4).
Hearing the word of God, they turned from their evil ways and God had mercy on them. Sometimes, we act like people worse than the Ninevites. We practically hear the word of God daily, in homilies or sermons, religious teachings, and reflections online or social media. Yet our hearts are like rock. Evil continues to thrive among us, wickedness never cease, corruption has become the order of the day, kidnapping, violence, hatred, anger, unforgiveness, lust, immorality and all sorts of vices keep increasing among us. With these, can we say we are better than the people of Nineveh? Is it the case that the Word of God makes no impact in our lives? With a very brief message of Jonah to the Ninevites on repentance, they turned from their evil ways.
When will you make the turn to the direction of God? St. Paul in the second reading stresses that we have very little time at our disposal and we need to use it well when he said, “The appointed time has grown very short… for the world is passing away” (1Cor. 7:29.31). There is no time to focus on anything other than spreading the Word of God, that is, the Good News. It is time we soak ourselves in the Word of God, intensify our Bible studies and use the Bible constantly for Lectio Divina.
For the word of God is a lamp to my step and a light to my path (Ps 119:105). Dear friends in Christ, our Lord Jesus Christ has employed and empowered us as he did to the first four disciples whom he called in today’s reading. They left everything and followed him. Let us leave whatever is holding us down/back to follow Christ wholeheartedly. Putting the Word of God first and every other thing shall follow. May God bless his word in our hearts through Christ our Lord, amen.