Word of God Sunday

[Live-streamed Mass:  January 24, 2021]

This Third Sunday in Ordinary Time has been specially designated by the Holy See as the Word of God Sunday.  On this Sunday we are invited to reflect on the importance of Sacred Scripture in our Christian life and liturgy.  In this context Pope Francis says, “As Christians we are one people, making our pilgrim way through history, sustained by the Lord, present in our midst, who speaks to us and nourishes us.  A day devoted to the Bible should not be seen as a yearly event but rather a year-long event, for we urgently need to grow in our knowledge and love of the Scriptures and of the Risen Lord, who continues to speak his word and break his bread in the community of believers.  For this reason we need to develop a closer relationship with Sacred Scripture; otherwise our hearts will remain closed and our eyes shut, inflicted by many forms of blindness.”[i]  Let us consider three points in the words of Pope Francis. 

First, God speaks to us and nourishes us [through Sacred Scripture].

Perhaps the most important message of God in Sacred Scripture is that of his love.  “I have loved you with an everlasting love” (Jer. 31:3), God says in Jeremiah.  “God is love,” John says; “In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins” (1 Jn 4:8-10).  “Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends” (Jn 15:13).[ii] 

God speaks to us of love and nourishes us in his incarnate Son.  “I am the bread of life,” Jesus says.  “Your ancestors ate the manna in the desert, but they died; this is the bread that comes down from heaven so that one may eat it and not die. I am the living bread that came down from heaven; whoever eats this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world” (Jn 6: 58-51).

Second, We urgently need to grow in our love of the Scriptures and of the Risen Lord.

On this Word of God Sunday, then, let me just say:  all of you who are Christians should have a personal Bible and consider it among your most prized of possessions.  All of you who are Catholics should have a Catholic edition of the Bible, like the  Revised Stand Version or the New American Bible.  These contain books that are not in other editions of the Bible; yet, do not be afraid to read other Bibles.  All should work out a plan of reading the Bible regularly, like faithfully following and praying with the readings of the daily Masses[iii] – and understanding the Sacred Scriptures in the manner that the Catholic Christian community understands them.  Read the Bible guided by a good commentary or by good teachers and scholars of the Bible; scholarship is necessary to “be attentive to what the human authors wanted to affirm, and to what God wanted to reveal through their words.”[iv]  “Through the words of Sacred Scripture, God speaks only one single Word, his one Utterance in whom he expresses himself completely.”[v]  This is the Word of God which is incarnate and living.  “If the Scriptures are not to remain a dead letter, Christ, the eternal Word of the living God, must, through the Holy Spirit, open our minds to understand the Scriptures.”[vi]  As you grow in your reading and loving Scripture, you will develop a love for certain passages.  Highlight them in your personal Bible.  Write those passages down in your journal.  Return to them frequently, savor their meaning, continue to draw nourishment from them.  God will speak to you in them, as you will speak to God in them, as in:  “O God, you are my God, for you I long. For you my body yearns; for you my soul thirsts, like a land parched and lifeless and without water” (Ps 63:2) or “Create a clean heart in me, O God. Do not drive me from your presence nor take me from your holy Spirit.  Restore my joy in your salvation” (Ps 51:12-14).  Appreciate: “The New Testament lies hidden in the Old and the Old Testament is unveiled in the New.”[vii]

Through the Scriptures then come to a deeper encounter with the self-revealing God through Jesus.  These past weeks we have been reading from Hebrews.  It says, “In times past, God spoke in partial and various ways to our ancestors through the prophets; in these last days, he spoke to us through his Son, whom he made heir of all things and through whom he created the universe, who is the refulgence of his glory, the very imprint of his being, and who sustains all things by his mighty word.  When he had accomplished purification from sins, he took his seat at the right hand of the Majesty on high, as far superior to the angels as the name he has inherited is more excellent than theirs.” (Heb 1:1-4).  John’s Gospel begins with similarly solemn cosmic words:  “In the beginning was the Word and with Word was with God and the Word was God.  He was in the beginning God and all things were made through him, and without him, nothing came to be. …  And the Word became flesh, and made his dwelling among us, and we saw his glory, the glory of the Father’s only son, full of grace and truth” (Jn 1:1-5. 14).  Jesus is the Word.  And in today’s reading from the Mark’s Gospel, Jesus says, “This is the time of fulfillment.  The Kingdom of God is at hand.  Repent and believe in the Gospel” (Mk 1:15).  He also said, “Come, follow me…” (Mk 1:17a). Outside of preaching and teaching, Jesus “cured many who were sick with various diseases, and he drove out demons” (M 1:34).  For he came “to bring life, life to the full” (Jn 10:10).  But his proclamation of the Kingdom of God and obedience to his Father cost him his life, who “though he was in the form of God did not regard equality with God something to be grasped at.  Rather, he emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, coming in human likeness; and found human in appearance, he emptied himself, becoming obedient to death, even death on a cross. Because of this God greatly exalted him, and bestowed on him the name that is above every name…” (Phil 2:6-7).

Third, God continues to speak his word and break his bread in the community of the Risen Lord. 

There is an intimate relationship between the Word of God and liturgy, that we must appreciate on Word of God Sunday. From Hebrews we know:  when God spoke to us through his Son, his Son was anointed High Priest by the Father in his incarnation.[viii]  The Sacrifice of the High Priest, Jesus, no longer involves the carcasses and blood of animals as in the sacrifices of the Levite priests of the Old Covenant, but his own body and blood[ix] establishing a New Covenant.[x]  Jesus crucified is the Word of God spoken to us – being spoken to us –  given up, offered up, for our nourishment; Jesus crucified is the Word of Life  being given up, offered up for us in obedience; Jesus perfected in resurrection is the Word of God taken up to the right hand of the Father as our hope.  In this Mass and in every Mass that we offer in daily liturgy, in its Sacrifice offered once for all time in eternal liturgy, it is this Word of God that is the Bread of Life, which we take, break and eat, internalize and share as the Body of Christ.  The Word of God is the eternal High Priest of the Order of Melchizedek, the High Priest of the perpetual Sacrifice in the Liturgy of the heavenly sanctuary, where He himself is the Sacrificed, into whom we are baptized.  When Pope Francis says, “As Christians we are one people, making our pilgrim way through history” it is towards this heavenly sanctuary where the High Priest’s liturgy is celebrated now and forever that we journey in hope.[xi] 

In conclusion, on Word of God Sunday, love your Sacred Scripture, respond to your Word of God.  Through it, through him, God loves you, God nourishes you, God saves you and leads you into the heavenly celebration of Divine Love.

[i] Francis, Aperuit illis, no. 8.  This is quoted in the Note of the Congregation on Sacred Liturgy and Sacramental Discipline 602/20 distributed to priests in Davao by Abp. Romulo Valles in preparation for this Sunday. 

[ii] Paul says furthermore, “…For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor present things, nor future things, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom 8:38-39).  Nor is this a love given only when we are sinless.  Paul says, “God demonstrates his own love for us in this.  While we were all sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom 5:8).

[iii] Helpful would be a Bible Diary like: 365 Days with the Lord: Liturgical Biblical Diary 2021 (Makati: St. Paul’s, 2021) as long as one moves from the Bible Diary to reading and praying from one’s personal Bible.

[iv] CCC, 109.  Cf also CCC, 110.

[v] CCC, 102.

[vi] CCC, 108

[vii] CCC, 130.  Also 128, 129.

[viii] Cf. Hebrews 1:1 and Hebrews 8:11-22

[ix] Hebrews 9:11-15 and 10:1-9

[x] Hebrews 8:7-13.  “Behold the days are coming, says the Lord, when I will conclude a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah.  …  I will put my laws in their minds and I will write them on their hearts.  I will be their God and they will be my people. … …all shall know me, from least to greatest.  For I will forgive their evildoing and remember their sins no more.”  The author of Hebrews quotes from Jer. 31:31-34.

[xi] Cf. Hebrews 10.  The Catechism of the Church says,  “The Church has always venerated the Scriptures as she venerates the Lord’s Body.  She never ceases to present to the people the bread of life, taken from the one table of God’s Word and Christ’s Body.”  CCC, 103


About Joel Tabora, S.J.

Jesuit. Educator
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