Sunday of the Word of God (3rd Sunday in Ordinary Time)
Pope Francis has decreed that annually the Third Sunday in Ordinary Time must be celebrated as the Sunday of the Word of God. This celebration is intended to remind us of the indispensable place of the Word of God in our individual lives and in the life of the Church as a whole.
In this homily, we will look at the meaning of the Word of God, and then consider three main areas to which Pope Francis intends that the Sunday of the Word should be devoted: “the celebration, study and dissemination of the Word of God” (Apostolic letter Aperuit illis, 30 September 2019, no. 3). Where appropriate, today’s first and gospel readings will be used for illustration.
WHAT IS THE WORD OF GOD?
Human words could be statements or declarations which reveal the intention, wish or command of the speaker. Similarly, the Word of God reveals His intention, will, plan, command, etc. God’s Word, moreover, is absolutely powerful and creative. His Word accomplishes what He declares. For instance, in the beginning, He declared, “Let there be light” and light appeared without fail (Gen. 1:3).
The Word of God is not only powerful, it is also redemptive. In other words, God’s Word saves the world. Thus, Scripture testifies to the fact that to save the world, the Word of God became flesh and lived among us (cf. John 1:1-3,14-16; 3:16).
Sometimes in the past, to reveal His will and command, God spoke His Word through His prophets. For instance, according to today’s first reading, “the word of the Lord came to Jonah a second time” (Jonah 3:1). Then, in the fullness of time, Jesus Christ, who is the Son of God and the very Word of God, will speak to us (cf. John 1:1-3; Heb. 1:1-4). For instance, today’s gospel reading informs us of the beginning of Jesus’ ministry of the proclamation of the Word of God or the good news (Mark 1:14-15).
The Word of God which was initially passed on from generation to generation by the prophets and other servants of God was eventually written down as the Old Testament. Similarly, the Word of God which was initially proclaimed by Jesus Christ and passed on by His disciples as well as the teachings of His disciples were eventually written down as the New Testament. These two Testaments form one unit called the Holy Bible or Scriptures or the Word of God.
CELEBRATION OF THE WORD OF GOD
The written Word of God or the Holy Bible is the focus of the Sunday of the Word of God. Because the Bible is the very Word of God, though written in human words for our comprehension, and because it is indispensable for our salvation, we are to celebrate it. We celebrate it by honouring it. There are several ways of honouring the Word of God. These include: to be attentive to it when it is read, to live by its tenets/commandments, to show respect to the printed Book (Bible), to enthrone the Bible in the church or in a special place in our homes. In today’s Mass, Pope Francis enjoins us to enthrone the Bible.
Pope Francis also calls our attention to another way of celebrating the Word of God. That is, to formally commission those lay persons who read/proclaim it in the church.
STUDY OF THE WORD OF GOD
According to Pope Francis, the study of the Word of God is also to be highlighted on the Sunday of the Word of God. Besides the critical importance of the Bible for our salvation, it “is useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness” (2 Tim. 3:16). We must, therefore, dedicate time to read, study and pray with it daily as much as possible. Each parish or church community should organize Bible study sessions, and catechists, teachers of Sunday Children Service and lay readers/lectors should be well trained.
DISSEMINATION OF THE WORD OF GOD
The third focus of the Sunday of the Word of God mentioned by the pope is the dissemination of the Word of God. The dissemination of the Word of God involves proclaiming it or distributing the copies of Bible or copies of one of its books. Hearing the Word of God is fundamental to having faith in Him. Hence, the crucial importance of disseminating the Word of God. St. Paul rhetorically makes this point: “But how are they to call on one [God] in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in one of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone to proclaim Him? … So, faith comes from what is heard, and what is heard comes through the Word of Christ” (Rom. 10:14, 17).
This is evident in the response of the people of Nineveh to the preaching of Jonah. They who did not know God and therefore went astray, repented when they heard about God and His message preached by the prophet (Jonah 3:1-5). Similarly, to save people from their sins, Jesus, according to the gospel reading, preached about repentance and faith in the good news of salvation (Mark 1:14-15).
This task of proclaiming the good news has to continue until the end of time. Hence, our Lord has sent us to proclaim the good news to all nations (Matt. 28:18-20; cf. Rom. 10:15). Beloved, we cannot faithfully and confidently proclaim the Word of God if we do not study the Bible. So, let us dedicate more time to read and study it.
Beloved, today, we have been reminded that the Word of God is indispensable for our salvation and the salvation of others. Firstly, therefore, let us honour the Word of God by making it the centre of our lives. Secondly, let us make time to read, study and pray with the Word of God. Finally, as we gain confidence in our knowledge of the Word of God, may the Holy Spirit empower us to become ardent ambassadors of the good news of salvation. Amen!