Updated: Jan 22, 2021
This Sunday is the Third Sunday in Ordinary Time.
Our Holy Father, Pope Francis, in his Apostolic Letter "Aperuit Illis" instituted this Sunday as the Sunday of the Word of God.
In his letter, the Holy Father recalls the passage from St. Luke which reads "He opened their minds to understand the Scriptures” (Lk 24:45). This was one of the final acts of the risen Lord before his Ascension. Jesus appeared to the assembled disciples, broke bread with them and opened their minds to the understanding of the sacred Scriptures. To them, amid their fear and bewilderment, he unveiled the meaning of the paschal mystery: that in accordance with the Father’s eternal plan he had to suffer and rise from the dead, in order to bring repentance and the forgiveness of sins (cf. Lk 24:26.46-47). He then promised to send the Holy Spirit, who would give them strength to be witnesses of this saving mystery (cf. Lk 24:49).
The relationship between the Risen Lord, the community of believers and sacred Scripture is essential to our identity as Christians. Without the Lord who opens our minds to them, it is impossible to understand the Scriptures in depth. Yet the contrary is equally true: without the Scriptures, the events of the mission of Jesus and of his Church in this world would remain incomprehensible.
One of the most significant moments in Jesus’ relationship with his disciples is found in the account of the Transfiguration. He goes up the mountain with Peter, James and John to pray. The evangelists tell us that as Jesus’ face and clothing became dazzlingly white, two men conversed with him: Moses and Elijah, representing respectively the Law and the Prophets; in other words, sacred Scripture. Peter’s reaction to this sight is one of amazement and joy: “Master, it is well that we are here; let us make three tents, one for you and one for Moses and one for Elijah” (Lk 9:33). At that moment a cloud overshadows them, and the disciples are struck with fear.
The Transfiguration reminds us of the Feast of Tabernacles, when Ezra and Nehemiah read the sacred text to the people after their return from exile. At the same time, it foreshadows Jesus’ glory, as a way of preparing the disciples for the scandal of the Passion: that divine glory is also evoked by the cloud enveloping the disciples as a symbol of God’s presence. A similar transfiguration takes place with sacred Scripture, which transcends itself whenever it nourishes the lives of believers.
This week's Gospel is from Mark 1:14-20. Jesus came to announce to all men the good news of God's eternal plan for them. He spent his public life convincing the Jews of Palestine of the truth of this message, and he died on the cross because he claimed to be that he was God's divine Son, who had come in human nature to raise all men to the standing and status of adopted sons of God. That very death, cruel and unjust though it was, was part of the divine plan. He conquered death and was raised from the grave to prove that we too, if we accept his divine gospel and live by it, will be raised from the dead and reign with Christ in the kingdom of his Father forever. Christ preached this doctrine in Palestine. It is the doctrine for which he gave his human life and which he gave to his Apostles to hand down to all future generations. This is the self-same doctrine preached by Christ's Church to all men today. It is the good news of God's mercy and love toward us weak, mortal creatures. To some it seems too good to be true; it would indeed be so if God were a limited, finite being like us, but he is Being itself. He is without limit, his goodness and love are limitless as is his nature. What God can see in creatures has ever been a puzzle to thinking man. One of the psalm-writers said centuries ago: "What is man that you should spare a thought for him, the son of man that you should care for him" (Ps. 8 :4)? Many a saint too, has repeated this remark ever since.
We cannot hope to fathom the mind of God, nor do we need to. He has gone to such a length as the humiliation of his divine Son in the incarnation in order to give us a new standing in relation to himself and a new mode of eternal living after death. We are still God's creatures, "the work of his hands," but through accepting Christ and his gospel—his message of divine truth—we are no longer mere mortals. We shall die, but death is the beginning of the true life which God has arranged for us. It is no wonder that St. Paul could cry out: "O death where is your victory, O death, where is your sting?"
We Christians should be the happiest people on earth. We know why we are here, we know where we are going and we know how to get there. There are trials and troubles which beset us on our journey; there are rough parts of the road and weaknesses in our human nature which often lead us off the right road, but we are not left to our own human resources. We have help from above to strengthen and comfort us on our journey. We have divine aids in the Church which Christ set us and we have the guarantee of our Good Shepherd that he will keep us in his fold or bring us back should we foolishly wander from it (Jn. 10: 14; Lk. 1.5:4-7).
We Christians can indeed be the happiest people on earth, if we live according to the divine good news revealed to us through Christ. "Repent and believe in the gospel," Christ told the people of Galilee. The same call goes out from our loving Savior to each of us today: repent—change your outlook on life— and see it as God sees it to be for us, a short journey toward heaven. If we really believe in the gospel of Christ, the revelation of God's plan for our eternal happiness, our earthly troubles will look small, our trials and temptations will appear to us as they really are—a means of earning the eternal victory. Christ, the innocent victim for our salvation, has gone before us, carrying his heavy cross; can we refuse to carry the relatively lighter cross which he places on our shoulders as our means of making atonement for our own failings and for those of our fellowmen? God forbid that we should! If we have failed in the past, let us repent today and show our belief in the truth of the Christian gospel, by living as true Christians who are on their way to heaven.
Almighty ever-living God, direct our actions according to your good pleasure, that in the name of your beloved Son we may abound in good works.