3rd Sunday of Ordinary Time

Preached January 26, 2020

The past two Sundays we have focused on the theme of baptism and the supernatural life of
grace that God gives us through baptism.

Today, we have heard Jesus call Peter, James, John, and Andrew away from their nets to
become fishers of men. The role of fishers of men is to lift human beings up in Christ from the
natural life of this sinful world to the supernatural life of God.

Today, we also heard the beginning of Jesus preaching: Repent, for the Kingdom of heaven is at
hand. The kingdom of heaven is the typical way that Jesus speaks about the supernatural order
and the supernatural life that lies at the heart of the supernatural order. So elsewhere Jesus
said, No one can enter the Kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit. What is born
of flesh is flesh, what is born of spirit is spirit. (Jn 3:5-6)

Nevertheless, we also heard St. Paul affirm: Christ did not send me to baptize but to preach the
Gospel. It sounds almost as though he is dismissing the importance of baptism.

We need to recall the words of Jesus: He who believes and is baptized will be saved. (Mk 16:16)
Baptism presupposes faith and faith comes through hearing the word that is preached by the
one who has been sent by Christ, just as Christ was sent by his Father. (cf. Rm 10:14-15,17; Jn
20:21) Even for those who are baptized as infants, the parents and godparents must profess the
faith on their behalf.

Very often the reason that the sacraments have little effect in the life of the faithful is that they
have not been formed and instructed by the word of God. The word of God and the sacraments
need to go hand in hand. Without the word of God our faith remains anemic and so the
sacraments fail to achieve their full effect; without the sacraments the word of God fails to
unite us bodily to Christ, the source of grace. The sacraments get us out of our heads and
rooted in the real world.
Today, for the first time, the Church keeps this 3rd Sunday of Ordinary Time as “The Sunday of
the Word of God”, newly established by Pope Francis.

Unfortunately, we have little inclination to listen to God’s word, or to apply ourselves to God’s
word, because what we like is entertainment, not instruction.

Today, January 26 is the day the Church honors St. Timothy, to whom St. Paul wrote: 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 and equipped for
every good work. (2 Ti 3:16-17)

Actually, the Word of God is first of all a person, the second person of the Holy Trinity, the
Word that was in the beginning with God, the Word that was God, the Word through whom all
things were made, the Word who is the Son of God who reveals the Father. (cf. Jn 1:1-3,18)
The Father, who speaks that one Word in eternity, spoke that Word to us in time, when the
Word became flesh an dwelt among us; (cf. Jn 1:14) he spoke that Word to us when the Son of
God made man, Jesus Christ, was conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit and born of the
Virgin Mary, lived among us, was crucified and rose again from the dead. Speaking that word,
who is Jesus Christ, to us, he reaches out to embrace us and gather us in to himself.

The entrance of Jesus Christ, the Word made flesh, into the world, was prepared through God’s
words to his people Israel, recorded in the Old Testament. The Word, who is Jesus Christ, made
himself known to his Apostles, who went forth from Jerusalem to proclaim the Gospel to the
nations. From the Tradition they established by their preaching there came forth, written by the
Apostles themselves and their disciples, the various books of the New Testament, completing
the word of God in written form.

The word of God, as the message of God, coming from the living Word who is Jesus, comes to
us then through the inseparable harmony of Scripture and Tradition, interpreted authoritatively
by the Teaching Authority (or Magisterium) of the Church.

The word of God, then, is first a person, but next it is a message, a teaching, and a way of life;
we cannot separate the person from the message, or the message from teaching, or the
teaching from the way of life in the Church. Rather, we must learn to discover Jesus, the Word,
speaking to us in the message, in the teaching, and in the life of the Church.

At the heart of the word of God is the Gospel. There are the four Gospels of Matthew, Mark,
Luke, and John, that tell us of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. The four Gospels
contain the single Gospel of Jesus Christ. But what on earth does that word ‘Gospel’ mean?
It is weakly translated as ‘Good News’, but this is not any old good news. This is the good news
of salvation in Jesus Christ, the Son of God. If the very Son of God, consubstantial to the Father,
has come to save us, the salvation he brings must be proportioned to the greatness of the
Savior. We set our sights to low. St. John writes towards the end of his Gospel, These things are
written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that through this belief
you may have life in his name. (Jn 20:31)

The Son of God did not become man just to work miraculous cures for the benefit of a few
people; he did not become man just to bring comfort and consolation to some individuals; he
became man to conquer sin and death and inaugurate the Kingdom of God, the supernatural
order, through which he gives us his own divine life, a life that will be brought to fruition in the
face to face vision of God and the resurrection of the body.

St. Paul wrote about the gracious act of Jesus Christ, that for your sake he became poor
although he was rich, so that by his poverty you might become rich. (2 Cor 8:9) St. Paul is not
referring to the poverty and riches of money, he is referring to the poverty and riches of life,
the poverty of human life in comparison to the richness of divine, supernatural life.
In this regard, the Catechism of the Catholic Church makes reference to the 2nd Letter of St.
Peter, saying: “The Word became flesh to make us ‘partakers of the divine nature’.” The
Catechism then goes on to quote St. Irenaeus: “For this is why the Word became man, and the
Son of God became the Son of man: so that man, entering into communion with the Word and
thus receiving divine sonship, might become a son of God.” And St. Athanasius, who puts it very
boldly: “For the Son of God became man so that we might become God.” And St. Thomas
Aquinas, who puts it more precisely: “The only-begotten Son of God, wanting to make us
sharers in his divinity, assumed our nature, so that he, made man, might make men gods.”
(CCC 460)

At the Second Vatican Council the Church taught: “The eternal Father, by a free and hidden
plan of His own wisdom and goodness, created the whole world. His plan was to raise men to a
participation of the divine life.” (LG 2) This is the supernatural life of grace.

We are familiar with the famous words of St. John in his Gospel: 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. (Jn 3:16) The immeasurable greatness of God’s love is revealed both by the gift of
his Son and the greatness of eternal life in him. So elsewhere, we hear the prayer of Jesus, in
which he says, This is eternal life, that they should know you, the only true God, and the one
whom you sent, Jesus Christ … Father, they are your gift to me. I wish that where I am they also
may be with me, that they may see my glory that you gave me, because you loved me before
the foundation of the world. (Jn 17:3,24)

St. Paul was sent to preach because unless we hear the word, we cannot believe in the gift of
God’s love, and unless we believe in the gift of God’s love we can neither be baptized so as to
enter into the life he gives us, nor can we recognize and grasp the gift received in baptism so as
to live from it. Everything depends upon faith. Without faith we truly remain in the dark about
what is most important.

Jesus preached: Repent, for the Kingdom of heaven is at hand. Today, I first spoke about the
Kingdom of heaven, revealed by the word of God, made known in the Gospel. Once we grasp
the greatness of the promise given us in Christ, then we can begin to understand the truth of
sin and repentance.

At the root of sin is a rejection of the Kingdom of God, the supernatural order, and the life of
grace. At the root of is a rejection of the invitation to the wedding feast of the Lamb, the Son of
the King. (cf. Mt 22:1-14, Rev 19:6-7) At the root of sin is a seeking of our own happiness,
according to our own petty standard rather than according to greatness of God’s plan and his
gift. Sin is my will over God’s will. As a result, repentance is not just a matter of changing one
thing here, another thing there, as it pleases me, following the ‘self-help’ mentality; rather true
repentance requires a whole conversion of life and thought to Christ. St. Paul writes: Do not be
conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind. (Rm 12:2)
This can only happen if we receive the word of God, not as a mere human word, but as it really
is, the word of God, Jesus Christ speaking to us. (cf. 1 Th 2:13) We must learn to see and
evaluate reality according to God’s standard, not our human standard.

 

 

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Fr. Joseph Levine graduated from Thomas Aquinas College and after a long journey was ordained to the priesthood for the Diocese of Baker, Oregon. He currently serves as pastor of St. Peter Catholic Church in The Dalles on the Columbia River.

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