Sunday of the Word of God
By: Tina Giusto
Today, is special day instituted by Pope Francis called “The Sunday of the Word of God” (Archbishop Secretary, Arthur Roche, Robert Card. Sarah Prefect, Note The Sunday of the Word of God, Congregatio de Cultu Divino et Disciplina Sacramentorum, 17, December 2020-see footnote #3 – VATICAN COUNCIL II, Constitution Dei Verbum; BENEDICT XVI, Apostolic Exhortation Verbum Domini.) We are called to journey as pilgrim people together and deepen our understanding of Sacred Scripture and the Eucharistic Liturgy. Gathered here today, it is an occasion to connect the Biblical readings in the Liturgy of the Word with our Christian Life. Back in September, the Liturgy of the Hours speaks about the example and witness of St. Jerome. St. Jerome is great man of God who had spent his life studying, translating analyzing scriptural text. Pope Francis recalls that “[He had a] profound knowledge of Scriptures, [and] zeal for making his teachings known. In his attentive listening to the Scriptures, Jerome came to know himself and find God in his brothers and sisters” (Arthur Roche, Note The Sunday of the Word of God, see footnote #29- Cf. FRANCIS, Apostolic Letter Scripturae sacrae affectus, on the Sixteenth-hundredth Anniversary of the Death of Saint Jerome, 30 September 2020). Hence, the Liturgy places us in a living community and draws us into a conversation with God. St. Jerome states “Seek the Scriptures, and Seek and you shall find Christ.” (“Second Reading,”Divine Office Liturgy of the Hours, https://divineoffice.org/0930-or/?accessible=true&date=20200930
We are now in the Ordinary season of time when we hear stories of Jesus’ power, authority, healing, teaching and preaching. Let us begin by listening to this philosophical teaching instruction that sets the scene for this weekend’s readings.
According to Diogenes Laërtius, “Socrates met Xenophon in a narrow lane, put his stick across it, and prevented Xenophon from passing by. Socrates asked him where all kinds of necessary things were sold. And when Xenophon had answered him, Socrates asked him again where men were made good and virtuous. And as Xenophon did not know, Socrates said, “Follow me then, and learn.” And from this time forth, Xenophon became a follower of Socrates.” (Diogenes Laërtius, “Book II: Life of Xenophon,” The Project Gutenberg Ebook of The Lives and Opinions of Eminent Philosophers, London: G. Bell and Sons Ltd, 1915, 75), www.guteberg.org.
We hear Socrates announce to Xenophon the invitation to follow him and learn what it means to be a philosopher. Their meeting in the narrow lane was a timely encounter. In last week’s readings, Samuel learned from Eli to listen to God’s voice and respond “Speak, Lord for your servant is listening” (1 Sam 3:1). The first story teaches us that Xenophon remained with Socrates, inspired and influenced his life. Contrastingly, the book of Samuel shows us how like Samuel, we must be attentive. You and I are called to be still and pay attention to God’s voice. We also are filled with God’s presence and love, but Samuel shows us how God’s fidelity was constant and steadfast throughout his life. People were compelled to listen to Samuel and filled with God’s presence he influenced many. These are examples of people who accepted invitations to “come and see.”
However, John the Baptist in last week’s gospel was portrayed in the wilderness and pointed followers to Jesus who is the “Lamb of God” (John 1:29). Jesus encountered the people following him and asked them “What are you looking for?” (John 1:38). They asked Jesus “where are you staying?” (John 1:38). Jesus invited Andrew and the other person to “Come and you will see” (John 1:39). The next day, Andrew compelled to follow Jesus said to his brother Simon Peter “We have found the Messiah” (John 1:41). If we look closely, we notice that Simon responded to the question he asked the previous day to Andrew and the other follower “Come and see” (John 1:39). We also notice that Simon is named Cephas (Peter). What does this have to do with today’s reading? Clearly, John’s Gospel sets the scene of encounter, invitation and the discovery of Jesus’ messiahship.
Today’s gospel reading is taken from Mark, the shortest of the four synoptic Gospels. Mark was known as Peter’s scribe. He listened, learned and wrote what Peter taught to the local community. Mark’s gospel draws our attention to an appointed time (Kairos) that speaks about Jesus’ visit to the northern kingdom, in the region of Galilee. In the opening words, Mark inaugurates Jesus’ mission that he came to Galilee “proclaiming the good news of God” (Mark 1:14). Jesus’ reign in the earthly kingdom is not only the proclamation of peace, justice and love but of the paschal mystery – his passion, death and resurrection.
Understanding the Good news in Jesus’ day was far different at the time of the Roman Empire and the Mediterranean world from our vision today. The kingdom was ruled by imperial, political and economic power, by emperors such as Augustus and kings like Herod. The birth and beginning of Jesus’ ministry revealed the hostility, violence and injustices of Herod’s kingdom, in particular the killing of innocent children and the imprisonment and beheading of John the Baptist. Power was demanded by fear and controlled compliance. Contrary to what these leaders believed Jesus came in a timely fashion to call all people to a change of heart(metanoia) or conversion. This message is understood when Jesus says, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near, repent and believe in the good news”? (Mark 1: 15) God’s promise to Israel is the God-with-us breaking into the world and the designated time of God’s reign that has been fulfilled.
Peter, Andrew, James and John’s encounter with Jesus by the sea of Galilee would soon change not only the physical horizon of working as local fisherman for their livelihood but would impact the predictable rhythm of daily life. Jesus approaches Peter and Andrew and invites them saying “Come and follow me” (Mark 1:18). A radical call would force them to break from the routines of ordinary life where they would soon cast their nets into deep waters of mission and discipleship with Christ. Little did they realize that their catch of fish in the sea would be to “Make [them] fishers of people” (Mark 1:1). If we can only imagine the multitudes of fish and their variety in the nets, then how great is the multitude of people coming from different nations, cultures, races, ethnicity and religions.
Socrates inspired Xenophon, Samuel influenced the people, John led the way to Jesus and Jesus impacted the lives of these fisherman who left their families, villages, boats and nets to share Jesus’ mission. This invitation to “Come” and “Follow me” is open to all of us today amid the COVID pandemic and this past Week of Prayer for Christian Unity. In my own life of faith, it means I must leave my work and family to pursue studies here in Toronto. That being said, it requires a readiness to embrace new horizons and broaden my vision in a multicultural, collegial and parish community that embraces God’s vision in unique ways. James, John, Peter and Andrew left to join Jesus. Together they embraced a family beyond their own and like them, you and I are also called to be part of the one global human family and Church. This involves also “different religions, based on their respect for each human person as a creature called to be a child of God, contributing significantly to building fraternity and defending justice in our world. According to the Bishops of India, “the goal of dialogue is to establish friendship, peace and harmony, and to share spiritual and moral values and experiences in a spirit of truth and love” (Pope Francis, Encyclical Letter Fratelli Tutti on Fraternity and Social Friendship, October 3rd, 2020; and Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India, Response of The Church In India To The Present-Day Challenges, 9 March 2016).
How might we understand God’s kingdom today? Jesus reminds us like he did his followers “The time is fulfilled, repent and believe in the Good news” (Mark 1:15) If we are to be kingdom people, then first we must accept to live in solidarity with one another and trust in God’s creative power and transformative presence in this earthly life. This will instill hope in our hearts that there is much more beyond the boundaries of kingdom living. In Paul’s letter to the Corinthians, he instructs us to do the work of what “Doctors without Borders” do in many countries today. Not to hold fast to our temporal and superficial way of living, but to die to our present lifestyles, repent and see what needs healing in ourselves. They showed care and compassion in the healing and transformative power of God to afflicted and marginalized people. The choice to live simply and not be caught up in the fleshy aspects of worldly living will draw us out of ourselves to embrace a vision of peace, justice and healing.
The challenge for us today is “How can I be the Good News to my family, neighbour and surrounding communities? What is keeping me from proclaiming the message to others? A new trajectory of journeying – involves selfless love for others but first you and I must “seek the kingdom of God” (Mt. 22: 37-39) in our hearts. The prophet Isaiah spoke the other apostles and himself saying “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach good news, of those who announce peace. And God said, “Whom shall I send, who will go to my people? And he answered: Here I am; send me.” (“Second Reading,”Divine Office Liturgy of the Hours, https://divineoffice.org/0930-or/?accessible=true&date=20200930
The fundamental call is for everyone to be Pescador de hombres- “Come and Follow me.”