Updated: Mar 2, 2021
This weekend, we celebrate what’s called, “the Word of God Sunday,” which was established two years ago by Pope Francis. It dedicates the third Sunday in Ordinary time to renewing our appreciation of the written Word of God—the Bible. And so, in the brief space of this homily, I want to share with you just one aspect of the Word of God for your consideration.
That aspect is this: we need to interact with and consume the written Word of God regularly. By this, I mean reading and meditating upon the Bible daily. I think there’s great wisdom in Pope Francis’ institution of this celebration. Perhaps never before in human history has it been so easy to interact with and consume so many things. Many things and people can compete for our attention.
Whether it’s by phone, text, email, Facetime or Zoom, or some other form of communication, we interact with many influencers. Even when communication is one-way, we consume from others in the form of music, television, radio, YouTube, or whatever we find on the internet. All of these change us in ways we may never fully realize.
Enter the Word of God Sunday. In this celebration, we’re reminded that Sacred Scripture is timeless and is essential, not only to our spiritual development, but also to our authentically human development. I say authentically human, because whether we realize it or not, we are created in God’s image and likeness, and we’re broken and incomplete somehow when we live in a way that contradicts that reality.
Even emotionally, intellectually, and psychologically, we need to interact with and consume the Word of God even in order to be fulfilled, even at the human level. This isn’t a new idea. It’s as ancient as the faith. I’ll share with you a few examples:
Moses essentially wrote the first five books of the Bible, which we call the Pentateuch. Prior to that: that tradition was passed on orally, from father to son, from mother to daughter, from one generation to the next. Moses had everything put into writing.
After he died, God commissioned his assistant, Joshua, to inherit his ministry, with this command: “…This book of the law shall not depart out of your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it…” (Joshua 1:8a). When we hear law, it usually refers to the Torah, the law which defined Israel and gave her her identity.
From the Book of Psalms, which served somewhat like an ancient hymnal, we hear: Blessed is he who "delights in the law of the Lord, and on his law, he meditates day and night. He is like a tree planted by streams of water, that yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither. In all that he does, he prospers" (cf. Psalm 1:2-3).)
The books of the prophets, called the Nevi’im, make up the second part of the Old Testament. The prophets were anointed to teach God’s people. To qualify them for that, God commanded to consume God’s word and to take delight in it. In Jeremiah, for example, we hear: “Your words were found, and I ate them, and your words became to me a joy and the delight of my heart…” (Jeremiah 15:16). In Ezekiel, we also find: And he said to me, “Son of man, eat this scroll that I give you and fill your stomach with it.” Then I ate it; and it was in my mouth as sweet as honey” (Ezekiel 3:3).
When the Jews returned from the Babylonian exile, they found Jerusalem in ruins and the Temple destroyed. A Book of the Law was found. When Ezra the scribe publicly read what was written in it, all the people wept, because they realized how far they had fallen; how they had lost their sense of self, their identity, their history and traditions.
Jesus himself spoke of needing the Word. “It is written, ‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.’” (Matthew 4:4). This happened when he battled the devil in the desert. The Word of God defends against the wiles of the devil.
To the crowds, he said: “Do not think that I have come to abolish the law and the prophets; I have come not to abolish them but to fulfil them. For truly, I say to you, till heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the law until all is accomplished” (Mt. 5:17-18). The iota or dot, I think, refers to the Hebrew Letter yod, which is as tiny as an apostrophe.
Today, we continue this tradition of the Word. The first half of the Mass is the Liturgy of the Word. We do this on Sundays, but it’s not limited to Sundays—or to the Church. We can meditate on the Word at home everyday.
None of us are human brains. We’re human beings. Our faith isn’t a matter of figuring things out, or learning hidden secrets, or comprehending certain concepts in a single moment. That’s now how holiness works. Holiness is a state of being. And the Word of God causes us to be.
It’s like eating vegetables or getting regular exercise. Those things transform us over time as a process. It doesn’t do me any good knowing that vegetables are healthy, unless I eat them. And eat them often. Likewise, the written Word of God cleanses us and transforms us when we interact with it, consume it, and meditate upon it regularly. Through the grace of the Mass, may we continue to be cleansed and nourished by the Word, whom we ultimately consume in his fullness in the Eucharist.