The Third Sunday in Ordinary Time
"Power of Words"
We know the power of words in a way unknown for most of history.
We have always known the power of speeches. Students in Latin have long read speeches given by Cicero and other famous Romans; we can read great sermons whether in Greek or Latin by the early leaders of the Church. Our grandparents heard Franklin Roosevelt give fireside speeches and saw clips of Winston Churchill during World War II. And certainly our recent days in Washington showed the power of words in many different ways as one administration tried to end and another tried to begin.
But the world has never seen the power of billions of words by billions of people with cell phones and tablets. People on these social platforms can virtually say whatever they want for free; what they say can end up in the inboxes of untold numbers of people. Whatever big media might be putting out, social media has created an undercurrent that can wash away the base of anyone anytime.
Scriptures give us an image of Jonah as a very effective preacher, as we hear in the first reading. He only does one-third of his work and the whole city is repenting. But the biggest contrast to the conversion of Nineveh is Jonah himself who did whatever he could not to hear God’s word and not to fulfill God’s mission. Unlike Jonah, the disciples in the Gospel seem to pick up Jesus’ invitation in an instant, dropping their fishing nets; but how long would it take them to realize what Jesus was really about? According to Mark, they never quite get it right up to and beyond Jesus’ crucifixion.
On this Sunday, which is devoted to the power of the Word of God in our lives, the scriptures invite us to look at the various levels of resistance we have to hearing God’s Word, to find the Jonah in us. Those who try to attend Mass, even those who have to resort to television, get a steady output of the Gospel. But what do we do with it? We hear Jesus calling the four fishermen; but doesn’t this story ask us how Jesus is calling us? We hear Paul showing how dramatic God’s Word was in his life and the lives of his congregations. But does God’s Word have dramatic impact on our own lives?
The consoling thing about the Scriptures today is the way they show us we can all continue to grow in hearing God’s Word. Even people who have sudden conversions need decades more of meditating on the Word before its implications begin to dawn on them. And most of us, whose conversions involve a series of insights throughout our lives, have to learn to let the Word penetrate us more deeply. Even with the dramatic political events all around us, we do not feel, as St. Paul says, that the world is passing away. We sashay through life without much focus and without a sense of urgency.
“The Kingdom of God is at hand,” says Jesus, in words that should both violently shake us and powerfully excite us. God does new things for people who can open their eyes to see the Kingdom and open their lips to proclaim it. The movement Jesus is starting with these Apostles has come into our own ordinary lives. Jesus gives us all a part to play in the coming of this Kingdom because ordinary life is where Jesus wants the Kingdom to be born.
We can each make a commitment to spend a few minutes each day reflecting on the Scriptures; the Internet has abundant resources for us. If we tried to hear that Gospel more, I wonder how different our lives would be? Jesus shows us, every day, there are still many fish waiting to be caught up in the net of his love.