Pope Francis has asked that the Third Sunday of the Year be marked each year as “Word of God Sunday”.
Last year we celebrated the first one and I suspect that for many it may have slipped by without much of a fanfare. It could be argued that surely every Sunday is ‘Word of God Sunday’ because our gathering for Eucharist only makes sense in the light of the Scriptures. However, Pope Francis is aware that as a worshipping and practicing community, we Catholics have some way to go before we can be said to be at home with the Bible. It is very often seen primarily as a source for moral guidance or Church doctrine, but thankfully recent years have marked a return to seeing the Scriptures as offering us a moment of encounter with God – a call to a life-giving relationship. We speak now about the sacrament of the word!
The readings for today put before us an invitation to think about the meaning of repentance. Indeed, it’s possible that many sermons today will take as their starting point the dire warning from the Prophet Jonah on that very point. However, if we know our Scriptures, we know that in the Book of Jonah it’s not the people of Nineveh who have the problem responding to God’s word – it is Jonah, his prophet, who struggles with it; he even tries to run away from it! His problem is this: he is being asked to preach the mercy of God to the enemies of his people. He knows that God will show them compassion if they turn to him, and Jonah doesn’t want that. He would prefer fire and brimstone to come down on the lot of them!
So, this wonderful little book is a parable about how sometimes repentance can be really difficult for people who want God to be like them. Jonah needs to come to terms with the fact that the God of Israel loves other nations too. Jonah needs to repent of his own small- mindedness.
So, when we come to the Gospel and the beginning of Jesus’ ministry, in the Gospel of Mark, it begins with a call to repent and to believe the Good News. As the Gospel unfolds, however, we are going to discover that the people who have the greatest difficulty with the teaching of Jesus are not the sinners but the religious authorities and his own disciples! The disciples’ idea of God is focused on glory and victory while the authorities are focused on God the judge.
Jesus on the other hand is proclaiming the Good News of God’s limitless compassion expressed through his loving and humble service to those on the margins!
Repentance is all about seeing differently – God wants us to see differently, have a new mindset when it comes to recognising how and where He is at work in the world.
Perhaps this Sunday we can begin by seeing the Bible differently!