“This is the time of fulfillment. The kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the gospel.”
Jesus speaks these words as He begins his public ministry in Galilee. They are the first words He speaks in the Gospel According to Mark.
The Word has power and life. The time of fulfillment is now. The preparations by the Father, the hopes of Israel and all humanity, the time of healing and peace have come. Jesus will bring all to fulfillment. He proclaims the Kingdom of God. In the Kingdom of God, God reigns supreme. His Kingship over all creation will be acknowledged by Jesus and all who follow Him.
The gospel which Jesus preaches will proclaim this Kingdom, manifest the Kingdom, witness to the Kingdom and invite all to enter the Kingdom. The time (now) is a time of great joy as we renew our faith in Christ Jesus and experience, ever new, the blessings he pours out on us. The call to repentance is the call for renewal.
To turn our eyes back to God, to acknowledge Him as our King and to walk with Jesus on the Way of life. Jesus’ words also set the stage and the course of all that follows in the gospel. We see the first manifestation of this in the passage that follows.
The call of the first four disciples, who will later be named apostles, is the first response to the invitation. Jesus says to them “come follow me.” They leave everything to follow Him. This response is one of faith. They trust Jesus, they believe in Him and they allow Him to lead them on the path of life. Jesus invites them to fellowship and communion and they accept. On the road ahead, they will learn from Jesus – who He is, what He says and how He acts. As this happens, their relationship with Him and each other is deepened, fortified and nourished.
Today, the Third Sunday in Ordinary Time, has been designated “Word of God Sunday.” Pope Francis established this observance four years ago. It highlights the importance of the Scriptures as the Word of God in the life of the Church. In the Gospel account today, we hear Jesus speak. He still speaks to us. The Scriptures help us hear His voice, not with our ears, but with our minds and hearts.
The Second Vatican Council in its Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation, Dei Verbum, opens with a quotation from Sacred Scripture itself which beautifully captures the purpose of divine revelation.
The quote comes from the First Letter of Saint John and reads, “We announce to you the eternal life which dwelt with the Father and was made visible to us. What we have seen and heard we announce to you, so that you may have fellowship with us and our common fellowship be with the Father and His Son Jesus Christ.” (I John 1:2-3)
God, through Christ Jesus, invites everyone to the communion of life with Him and each other. The Scriptures help us to hear this invitation and to respond.
Saint Jerome in the 4th century wrote of the importance of the Scriptures. In one of his writings, Jerome offers a short statement which sums up his thoughts, “ignorance of Scripture is ignorance of Christ.”
In order for us to hear the invitation and to respond we have to listen to the One offering the gift and to learn from Him how to respond. He uses the Scriptures to voice that call and to show the Way.
Saint Timothy wonderfully expresses the benefits, “All scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for refutation, for correction, and for training in righteousness, so that one who belongs to God may be competent, equipped for every good work.” (II Tim 3:16-17)
Most of us have had the experience of listening to the Word of God and being moved by Him. Whether we read the Scriptures at home or hear them proclaimed at Mass, God speaks to us.
Some may hear, “Let there be light” (Genesis 1:3) or “I am the Light of the World” (John 8:12) and they find a way through the darkness.
Others may hear, “You are the light of the world,” (Matthew 5:14) and they are inspired to help others find the Way.
Others may hear, “You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind and strength…and your neighbor as yourself,” (Deuteronomy 6:4-9; Matthew 22:37-40) and be encouraged to worship God and serve their neighbor.
Others may hear, “Return, O Israel, to the Lord your God,” (Hosea 14:2) and know that God is never far away, and always eager to welcome us home.
Others may hear, “Take your evil deeds out of my sight; stop doing wrong,” (Isaiah 1:16) and be moved to a change of heart.
Others may hear, “the Lord is my shepherd, there is nothing I shall want,” (Psalm 23:1) and immediately recall His blessings, comfort and protection.
Others may hear, “Have mercy on me O God in your kindness,” (Psalm 51:1) and be moved to penitence.
Others may hear, “In the beginning was the Word,” (John 1:1) and experience awe of God’s love as “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.” (John 1:14)
Others may hear, “A man had two sons,” (Luke 15:11) and they remember the magnitude of God’s mercy.
Other may hear, “Blessed are they who mourn,” (Matthew 5:4) and they find comfort.
Others may hear, “Go sell all that you have and give it to the poor then come follow me,” (Matthew 21:21) and know the path of life.
Others may hear, “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life,” (John 3:16) and be filled with hope.
Others may hear, “This is my body which will be given up for you,” (Luke 22:19) and realize His Presence.
Others may hear, “Do not be afraid,” (Mark 5:36 et al.) and they know He is here.
Others may hear, “Go out to all the nations,” (Matthew 28:19) and be moved to evangelize.
The list could go on and on because the One who speaks these words is eternal, and His Word never is exhausted of meaning.
As we observe this Word of God Sunday, we once again hear Jesus inaugurate His public ministry. He does so with words.
He speaks these words to each one of us and to the communion of faith, the Church, once again inviting us to know God, His faithfulness and to proclaim Him as our King, “This is the time of fulfillment. The kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the gospel.”
Msgr. Joseph Prior is pastor of Our Lady of Grace Parish, Penndel, and a former professor of Sacred Scripture and rector of St. Charles Borromeo Seminary.
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