3rd Sunday of Ordinary Time (A) – January 26, 2020
Sunday of the Word of God
St. Margaret Mary – Wichita, KS
Isaiah 8:23-9:3; Psalm 27:1, 4, 13-14; 1 Corinthians 1:10-13, 17; Matthew 4:12-23
There’s a lot of polarization and disunity these days. You see it, I see it. We celebrated Martin Luther King Jr. Day this past week, but the fight he fought is still a fight we fight today. The March For Life was held in Washington D.C. on Friday, hundreds of thousands of people peacefully marching to defend the right of the unborn, to protest the crime that is abortion—but the country is divided on that too. The president attended the March, first president ever—but I don’t think any of us would argue that he is a person that is inspiring unity. This is not a political homily, trust me. I’m just trying to say that things seem pretty divided, pretty polarized these days. Even among us here today: if you asked everyone in this church, we would start to discover how different our views are on so many things.
In the history of salvation, this is a common story, as old as Adam and Eve, Cain and Abel. Throughout the Old Testament (and even into the New), “men thirst and look for water wherever they think they will find it.…they dig a well” (Corbon). We all go off searching for a way to quench our “thirst,” we all start digging our own wells looking for water. We get divided and polarized about so many things, trying to quench our thirst with all of these different “wells” we dig! But we don’t ask the Lord for living water, we don’t go to the Spring that never runs dry, we often forget to go to the Wellspring itself. But when Jesus arrives on the scene, when he begins his mission in Galilee, he does one thing: “Jesus began to preach.” Jesus speaks. God speaks.
This division is nothing new. As soon as Jesus ascended, people started fighting. Our second reading from Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians is a great example. Clearly he’s heard of great division in the community and so he addresses it. He says, “It has been reported to me about you, my brothers and sisters,…that there are rivalries among you. I mean that each of you is saying, ‘I belong to Paul,’ or ‘I belong to Apollos,’ or ‘I belong to Cephas,’ or ‘I belong to Christ.’ Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul?” (1 Cor. 1:11-13). Paul’s been gone for a few months, and already everyone is divided and fighting. And we think, “Nah, we belong to Christ, we know, Fr. Mike!” But do we? Because often we do the same thing. We do the same thing! “I belong to the Republicans,” or “I belong to the Democrats,” “I belong to CNN,” or “I belong to FOX,” Lifesite News or National Catholic Reporter, Pope Francis or Pope Benedict, Fr. Weldon or Fr. Richard, Pro-Immigration or Anti-Immigration, KU or K-State, Chiefs or Broncos. Sure! We “belong” to Christ. But as quickly as we say that, we start to put a lot of qualifications on that. Very quickly all of us who believe in Christ are pitted against one another.
And then—fragmented, un-united, divisiveness in our heart, division in the community—we come to the Eucharist (the source and summit, the sacrament of unity) and are divided. That’s what Paul is saying! “What? Are you serious? Really? You’re dividing yourselves into all of these camps? What do you think I said? In whose name were you baptized? I just preached the Gospel! I wasn’t trying to be clever or use some wisdom. I just spoke the truth. And you’re all fighting against each other about what??”
How are we drawn together? By a word.
With all of this division, how can we hope to be reunited? How can we hope for the unity that Christ prays for (John 17:21)? How, like early Christians we hear of in the book of Acts, can we be a community “one in mind and heart” (Acts 4:32)?
Well, throughout history, the way we are brought together, time and time again, united in mind, hearts are changed—it is through spoken words. Again, we celebrated Martin Luther King Jr. Day this past week; we have all heard of the “I have a dream” speech he gave, how it united so many in the pursuit of civil and economic rights and an end to racism. It was a defining moment, a decisive turn. We all know of Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address, John F. Kennedy’s speech inaugurating the space race.
But on a more personal level, we all seek words from one another, in our relationships with one another. Relationships break down when there is no communication, when it’s one-sided. When two people are in love, what do they do all the time? Speak to one another, dialogue, communicate. They write letters, talk in person, talk on the phone, send messages, short wave radio, whatever it takes! In friendships, we do the same thing: we talk, dialogue, communicate. And we are desperate to hear back! We need communication, we need to be heard and seen. We want a reply, a message, a presence.
When Jesus shows up does he just stand there and say, “Here I am!” No, he preaches, he speaks. Jesus goes to Galilee “and from that time on, [he] began to preach.” Jesus speaks. And he speaks because that is what he is. The Gospel of John opens with the words, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.…And the Word became flesh” (John 1:1 & 14). Jesus is God’s Word, God speaking, God revealing himself to us. God draws us all together through his Word! Through Jesus Christ—through him, with him, and in him!
All of this division we experience is overcome only through Christ! And so we have to listen. This is one of the great lessons from this story of Jesus calling the disciples: these men drop everything when they hear the Word speak to them, when Jesus speaks to them. They listen.
The Word of God
The question is: do we really want to hear from God, though? Do we long for his word? There is a beautiful story in the book of Nehemiah, in chapter eight. The people of Israel have finally returned from captivity and exile in Babylon, and for the first time in a long time they hear the Word of God proclaimed, they hear God’s Law, they hear the truth from God…and they weep. They weep at hearing from the Lord. I usually don’t see a lot of people weeping at mass on Sunday when the readings are proclaimed. But I have seen it. Usually it’s when I go to pray with someone just before death, or the prayers after death when I read from Psalm 23: “The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want.” But again: do we long to hear God’s word?
Usually, we long to hear something that agrees with us, that tells us what we already think. Paul talks about this in his second letter to Timothy. He says, “The time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own likings, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander into myths” (2 Timothy 4:3-4). Paul says, People are not going to want to listen to God’s Word! They have “itching ears”—what a great image!—and they’re just going to look for someone who says whatever they want to hear, myths, stuff that isn’t true. And that’s just it: sometimes we stay away from God’s word because we don’t want to hear it! But in so doing, we stay away from Christ himself; and when we stay away from Christ, we are divided, and there isn’t hope of unity.
Sunday of the Word of God
And that’s why today—as we celebrate this new feast given by Pope Francis, the Sunday of the Word of God—today we have to allow ourselves to be called back to the source, to the wellspring, to the spring of living water! Each and every Sunday we are called back, we gather around the altar of the Word and the altar of the Eucharist. And there is an “unbreakable bond” between the Word and Eucharist (Francis, AI, 8). But as Catholics, for a lot of different reasons, historical and theological, we tend to lean a little more on the Eucharist—which isn’t always helpful. So in a particular way today, we lean a little more on his Word. Because, again, as the very beginning of the Gospel of St. John tells us, “In the beginning was the Word.” As the Psalms say, “God spoke, and everything came into being” (Psalm 33). Everything begins with God’s Word…that is the source, the life of faith comes from it (c.f., Rom 10:17).
Psalm 1—the very first Psalm—says, “Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked…his delight is the law of the Lord, and on his law [on his word] he meditates day and night. He is like a tree planted by streams of water.” Blessed is the one who doesn’t listen to all of these voices and talking heads, but instead listens to God’s word, meditates on it day and nigh. It’s like being planted next to a stream of water! Jeremiah uses the same image to talk about what’s gone wrong: “My people have committed two evils: they have forsaken me, the fountain of living waters, and hewed out cisterns for themselves, broken cisterns that can hold no water” (Jer. 2:13). We keep leaving this fountain of living water! We go and try to dig our own cisterns, our own wells—when we could just plant ourselves next to the stream of living water. That’s the very last image in the Bible, in the last chapter of the Book of Revelation: “Then [the Angel of the Lord] showed [John] the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb through the middle of the street of the city” (Rev. 22:1-2). From the very throne of God flows a stream of living water—but time and time again we forsake it for our own broken cisterns.
God wants us to drink from this life-giving spring! He desperately wants us to drink from the source of life, the fountain of living water, the wellspring of life—from his Word. So much so that his Word became flesh, preached to us, died for us, rose again and is drawing us into the very life of that wellspring! How much more will we gain from the Eucharist, the body and blood of Christ, if the Word that becomes flesh is the Word that we read and meditate on each and every day? How can we not take time every day to read and meditate on his word.
This Sunday of the Word of God calls us back to that. It calls us away from all of the talking heads that only cause division, from the voices that only tell us what we want to hear. And it calls us back to the source, the Word of life, the source of life. It calls us back to the Word of God in the Holy Scriptures.