3rd Sunday in Ordinary Time
24th January 2021
Year B – Psalter week 3
Repent, and believe the Good News
Pope Francis has asked for this 3rd Sunday to be called the “Sunday of the Word of God” and to be a day to encourage the reading of the Scriptures. To mark this, Bishop David will be presiding at a livestreamed Bible Service this afternoon from the Cathedral at 3pm where he will be blessing readers.
Jesus Christ himself is the Word of God. His life-saving presence and teaching are communicated to us through the gift of the Scriptures, the Tradition of the Church such as in the celebration of the liturgy, and through the teaching authority of the Magisterium, that is, the Pope in communion with the bishops, as found, for example, in the Catechism of the Catholic Church.
In past times, and particularly before the invention of the printing press, most people only heard stories from the Bible when they attended Mass. In fact, because most people were illiterate, stained glass windows were important in churches because they were a means in which people could see Bible stories in a visual way.
Times are different now, and the vast majority of people, at least in our society, can read. Most of us, therefore, can read the Bible in our own time and we are encouraged to do so, in order that we ourselves become more familiar with the Word of God and with the mind of Christ. As St. Jerome once said, “Ignorance of Scripture, is ignorance of Christ.” While we hear the Word of God at every Mass, many Catholics it seems, are reluctant to read the Bible at home. Instead, we can be on a reading diet of other material, and often, I think, the main source of information for most is the television.
A huge problem we have today as Catholics is that our society is post-Christian, so we do not have the daily structures around us to support us in our faith. In fact, some of the “values” held as important by our culture today are in complete contradiction to the Word of God. A blatantly obvious example for me is the lack of dignity attributed to human life in the womb. These, and many other positions within our society, such as the whole area of being our own god when it comes to human sexuality and sexual relations, are dogmatically upheld on our TV screens by politicians, the media, and in film. Slowly, of course, as is the intention, this has resulted in many people and many Catholics being evangelised not by the gospel, but by the world, and this is reflected in how they live their lives and the choices they make.
Undermining of faith has also come from within the Church. Just think of the impact that child abuse by clerics and religious has had upon many communities, and the way in which these cases were handled. The recent Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse within the Catholic Church in England and Wales concluded that the Church had focused too often on the protection of clergy and the Church’s reputation.
With so many forces attacking the gospel message from without and from within, where can we find strength in our faith? Well, this is why reading the Scriptures is so important. They are a pure source from which we can drink and be strengthened, because within them we encounter Christ himself. As such, while the Scriptures can bring us into a place of deep peace and consolation, they can also at times challenge us and convict us of our sins. The Bible is not a dead word, but a living word. The letter to the Hebrews says this: “The word of God is something alive and active: it cuts like any double-edged sword but more finely: it can slip through the place where the soul is divided from the spirit, or joints from the marrow; it can judge the secret emotions and thoughts. No created thing can hide from him; everything is uncovered and open to the eyes of the one to whom we must give account of ourselves.”
The reason that we hear from the Scriptures at every Mass and are encouraged to read the Bible at home, is precisely to bring about a transformation in our lives. The first words of Jesus in Mark’s gospel are: “The time has come and the kingdom of God is close at hand. Repent, and believe the Good News.” Here, the Greek word used for repent literally means “to change one’s mind”, but Jesus would most probably have used the Hebrew or Aramaic equivalent, which has a deeper meaning of turning around 180 degrees and reorienting one’s whole life towards God in the face of his coming Kingdom.
Both the first reading and the gospel today have the common theme of preaching and repentance. When the prophet Jonah preached the word of the Lord to the pagan peoples of Nineveh, they were convicted of their sins and they repented in earnest. This resulted in them being spared from an impending disaster that would have been the just punishment for their sinful actions. When Jesus preached, we know that some repented of their sins and welcomed the Kingdom of God. Most of Israel’s leaders, however, rejected the good news. In the gospels, Jesus warns them of the impending disaster that would come if they persisted in their rejection of his Kingdom. The fact that the Jewish leaders did not know that they were effectively choosing to serve Satan instead should not come as a surprise, as Satan is, after all, the “father of lies.” But if one chooses to reject the Kingdom of Life, then one will only inherit the kingdom of death. As a consequence, Jerusalem and the Temple were destroyed by the Romans in 70 A.D. and around one million Jews died in the massacre.
These lessons provide a stark warning for us and our world today. Upon reflection, we should not be surprised that a world in the process of turning away from the gospel and replacing it with what Pope St. John Paul II termed a “culture of death”, will unleash that which it is serving: death. I can’t get away from the thought that the numbers that have tragically died from the coronavirus worldwide, are actually nothing in comparison to the innocents who have died in the womb, maybe even during the time of this pandemic. Pope Francis sees abortion as only one aspect of our “throw away culture”, which is impacting our natural world dramatically with increased pollution and global warming.
These situations will only continue to worsen if we do not heed the Lord’s voice to “Repent, and believe in the Good News.” This is a call for all of us to re-double our efforts, and with the Lord’s help to become ever-more faithfully his disciples. For this we need to draw upon His word as found in the Scriptures and to proclaim it to others.
At the heart of the gospel message is the Lord’s love and forgiveness for whatever we may have done either knowingly or unknowingly, and a lifting of all guilt and shame. We are all in need of this! But in order to have what St Peter refers to as “a sure hope” of salvation, we must first repent and place our faith and trust in Jesus, the Word of God.
 Hebrews 4:12-13.
 Cf. Reginald H. Fuller, 1984, Preaching the Lectionary, Third Sunday of Year B.
 John 8:44.
 “Since everything is interrelated, concern for the protection of nature is also incompatible with the justification of abortion. How can we genuinely teach the importance of concern for other vulnerable beings, however troublesome or inconvenient they may be, if we fail to protect a human embryo, even when its presence is uncomfortable and creates difficulties? “If personal and social sensitivity towards the acceptance of the new life is lost, then other forms of acceptance that are valuable for society also wither away”” (Laudato Si’, No. 120, quoting St Vincent of Lerins).
 A great resource to help understand the Bible is called “The Bible Timeline”, which explains clearly where each book fits into salvation history. A book that is based upon the course is called: “Walking with God – A Journey through the Bible” by Tim Grey and Jeff Cavins.
 1 Peter 1:3.
The people of Nineveh renounce their evil behaviour
Lord, make me know your ways
1 Corinthians 7:29-31
Sunday Message and Look
Download this weeks Sunday Message and Look (for our younger parishioners) by clicking on the images, for all the readings for this week, as well as the prayers during mass and the usual weekly thoughts and reflections.
The kingdom of God is close at hand: repent, and believe the Good News. Alleluia!