The Urgency of the Word
During this year in our Sunday liturgies, we will be hearing primarily from Mark’s Gospel. Mark’s is the shortest of the four, and most Scripture scholars believe that it was the first of them to be written and shared. Because of its brevity, Mark doesn’t waste words; he gets right to the point, and the words that he does choose to use are significant. It is worth paying attention to what we hear. Certainly, on this Sunday that has been designated as the “Sunday of the Word of God,” it is appropriate for us to consider all of God’s Word; but I want to draw attention to the Gospel in particular, and orient us as we will be hearing from Mark Sunday after Sunday.
Today, Mark recounts the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry. We hear that He “comes to Galilee proclaiming the Gospel,” and then “He passes the Sea of Galilee” and encounters His first followers, Simon and Andrew, then James and John. Most of the verbs that describe Jesus are “action” verbs – denoting movement and decisive action. Mark’s Jesus is constantly on the go – in fact, the phrase “on the way” appears frequently in Mark. The response to Jesus is most often decisive as well. The fishermen waste no time leaving their work and following after Christ; they have work to do as well.
I don’t know about you, but I can often fall into the trap of being a “passive disciple.” I mean that I am quite content to listen, to learn, to watch things happen rather than engaging as an active agent in the work of evangelizing and advancing the mission that Jesus came to begin. It’s easier to just sit and believe, rather than to be moved by what I hold as true and to go out and act on it. Maybe that is why Mark’s Gospel is so insistent with its action verbs and a depiction of Jesus on the go. There’s an urgency about this mission, and Mark is clued into it. We should be as well.
The Church is not about “passive disciples.” Rather, we are all called by our baptism to be active, missionary disciples – disciples who make new disciples. We cannot do that from our pew or our couch. That is why is to healthy to reflect on the Word of God. There is an urgency about this Word. Read with faith, it gets inside us and drives us, just as the Holy Spirit drove Jesus into His own ministry. Let’s consider what we hear today.
In the First Reading, we immediately begin, “The word of the Lord came to Jonah….” The prophet is given his mission – his marching orders. And he goes to proclaim God’s message to the Ninevites. Upon hearing that Word, the people of Nineveh – who are pagans, not Jews – repent of their sins and turn to the Lord. The Word of God has its effect of drawing others to Him.
St. Paul, writing to the Corinthians, now does so with great urgency. We must turn to the Lord and focus on Him. It is so urgent that he tells us, “the time is running out.” And “those having wives [should] act as not having them, those weeping as not weeping, those rejoicing as not rejoicing,those buying as not owning, those using the world as not using it fully. For the world in its present form is passing away.” This urgency of faith is clearly communicated through this Word of God, and hearing it, we ought to heed its call to be more and more focused on Jesus so that we can respond as immediately as those first four fishermen in Galilee.
Jesus Himself wastes no time in getting the message out. Mark doesn’t spend any words telling us about Christ’s birth or childhood. What is important to him is what Christ came to proclaim: “This is the time of fulfilment. The kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the gospel.” Then, off He goes to call His disciples and advance that mission.
We are told that “the word of God is living and effective, sharper than any two-edged sword, penetrating even between soul and spirit, joints and marrow, and able to discern reflections and thoughts of the heart” (Heb 4:12). Too often, we treat it like a butter knife! It’s “there.” Our Bibles can become mere ornaments on our shelves. But before the Word of God was written down on scrolls or in books, it was spoken, shared, proclaimed; and this is the nature of God’s Word – precisely because it is God’s Word. The Father speaks the Word, which is the Son, and the Spirit fills that Word with breath and life. We who hear it cannot sit still, then. We are also filled with that Holy Spirit who inspires these words and makes them effective in us.
Mark knew the urgency of God’s Word, and he proclaimed it and then wrote it down so that others could know it as well. Now that we have heard the perennial proclamation that “the kingdom of God is at hand,” we must go forth, driven by the Spirit, to proclaim that same message to others, so that they too may know Christ’s call and respond to it. This is the time of fulfilment! Hear these Words, and go out and share them with the world!