Third Sunday in Ordinary Time – Year B Sunday of the Word of God

21 January 2024

Appears in: Messages and Homilies

Third Sunday in Ordinary Time – Year B

Sunday of the Word of God


[Jonah 3:1-5, 10; Psalm 25; 1Corinthians 7:29-31; Mark 1:14-20]

Last weekend, everyone with smartphones received emergency alerts. The extreme cold weather was placing enormous pressure on our power grid, and people were asked to reduce without delay their electricity consumption. It was later reported that the response of Albertans was immediate. We all realized the urgency of the situation, and responded right away to what was asked of us.

At mass today we hear about a different kind of emergency alert, which also gets an immediate response from the people who receive it. In this case it is not about conserving energy but preserving life. The urgent message of last weekend reached us through our smartphones. Today a new one comes to us through Sacred Scripture, and invites us to respond without hesitation or delay.

The alert reaches us on what we now call Sunday of the Word of God. This was established a few years ago by Pope Francis as an observance to take place on the Third Sunday of Ordinary Time. It is an occasion on which we are each invited to look carefully at the response we give to the Word of God in our lives. God’s Word guides us along our pilgrim way by issuing a series of emergency alerts, and calling us not just to reduce but stop entirely the use of anything that leads us away from God. How are we responding to it?

To help us face this question, let’s consider the texts for this mass. In the first reading, we have an account from the Book of Jonah, the prophet sent by God to the people of Nineveh with an urgent alert that they would soon be overthrown. The people’s response to the warning is immediate. Without delay they repent and call upon the mercy of God, who responds with forgiveness. The passage from the Gospel of Mark gives us the urgent alert issued by Jesus himself, and records the immediate response of the first disciples when he calls them to follow him. Yet there is an important difference between the two. The warning spoken by Jonah pertains to impending destruction, and the people respond immediately out of fear. Jesus calls to repent, yes, and to turn away from the danger of sin, but in the context of announcing a new and wondrous action of God, breaking into the world through him. His urgent call is to invite people to join in his saving mission, a summons that awakens not fear but joy, enthusiasm, and the embrace of a radically new life.

“The time is fulfilled,” he says. The time has come for God to break into history in the gift of his Son Jesus to bring his plan of salvation to fulfillment! The “kingdom of God has come near.” God’s reign of love and mercy is now begun in Jesus to overcome the rule of Satan. “Repent and believe the good news.” The kingdom of God will henceforth be established in every heart that bows down in complete surrender to the will of God. All of this is to say that, in the gift of Jesus, a new energy, a new power, has burst forth in the world. It is God’s life-giving power, the power of truth and good, that, in the death and resurrection of Christ, will prove itself victorious over Satan’s lethal dominion of lies and evil.

These words of Jesus summarize the “emergency alert” of the whole Gospel. Furthermore, the Lord invites us to participate with him in its urgent communication. Just as he invited Simon, Andrew, James, and John to follow him and “catch people” with the announcement of the Gospel, so, too, does he invite us to be evangelizers in the circumstances our lives today. To put it another way, Jesus is calling us to be part of his communication “grid”. The grid that carries electricity to us is an integrated network of energy sources, power stations, and transmission lines. What brings the Word of God to us and the world is the wonderfully intertwined complex formed by the Bible, the teaching of the Church, and the witness of believers.

So, what is our response? God is calling us anew to allow His Word to be transmitted through the authentic witness of our lives. Let’s not hesitate or delay. Let’s not be afraid. The world needs the message of the Gospel, and there is nothing more exciting or purposeful than to have a share in its transmission. By God’s grace, which we receive in this celebration of the Eucharist, may our response be immediate, as was that of the first disciples.

Most Reverend Richard W. Smith

Our Lady of the Angels, Fort Saskatchewan

Saint Michael the Archangel, Saint Michael

Sacred Heart, Gibbons

January 21st, 2024