3rd Sunday in Ordinary Time Year C – January 23, 2022
AN ENCOUNTER WITH WORD OF GOD
“Ignorance of the Scripture is the ignorance of Christ” is the famous saying of St. Jerome who is the father of the Church and translated Bible from Hebrew and Greek to Latin. How true this statement is? This is also a sad fact that in our Catholic Church, the culture of Bible reading is almost zero and many people even don’t show any interest to read the Bible. Our encounter with the Word of God should fill us with joy and must fill us with wisdom and understanding. We read from the Book of Joshua that how God commanded him to keep the Book of the Law close to him and meditate on it day and night: “Only be strong and very courageous, being careful to act in accordance with all the law that my servant Moses commanded you; do not turn from it to the right hand or to the left, so that you may be successful wherever you go. This book of the law shall not depart out of your mouth; you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to act in accordance with all that is written in it. For then you shall make your way prosperous, and then you shall be successful. I hereby command you: Be strong and courageous; do not be frightened or dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.” (Joshua 1:7-9). St. Paul on the other hand confirms that the Word of God which we have it is true and real; “We also constantly give thanks to God for this, that when you received the word of God that you heard from us, you accepted it not as a human word but as what it really is, God’s word, which is also at work in you believers” (1 Thessalonians 2:13). What does ENCOUNTER mean for us today? But let me share this interesting story by an unknow author who has given it the title “The Room” and must help to understand that the Word of God is like a room and is opening different doors to have encounter with Him through is Divine Word.
In that place between wakefulness and dreams, I found myself in a room. There were no distinguishing features except for the one wall covered with small index card files. They were like the ones in libraries that list titles by author or subject in alphabetical order. But these files, which stretched from floor to ceiling and seemingly endless in either direction, had very different headings. As I drew near the wall of files, the first to catch my attention was one that read “Girls I have liked”. I opened it and began flipping through the cards. I quickly shut it, shocked to realize that I recognized the names written on each one.
And then without being told, I knew exactly where I was. This lifeless room with its small files was a crude catalog system for my life. Here were written the actions of my every moment, big and small, in a detail my memory couldn’t match. A sense of wonder and curiosity, coupled with horror, stirred within me as I began randomly opening files and exploring their content. Some brought joy and sweet memories; others a sense of shame and regret so intense that I would look over my shoulder to see if anyone was watching.
A file named “Friends” was next to one marked “Friends I have betrayed.” The titles ranged from the mundane to the outright weird. “Books I Have Read,” “Lies I Have Told,” “Comfort I have given,” “Jokes I Have Laughed at.” Some were almost hilarious in their exactness: “Things I’ve yelled at my brothers”. Others I couldn’t laugh at: “Things I Have Done in My Anger”, “Things I Have Muttered Under My Breath at My Parents.” I never ceased to be surprised by the contents.
Often, there were many more cards than I expected, sometimes, fewer than I hoped. I was overwhelmed by the sheer volume of the life I had lived. Could it be possible that I had the time in my years to fill each of these thousands or even millions of cards? But each card confirmed this truth. Each was written in my own handwriting, each signed with my signature.
When I pulled out the file marked “TV Shows I have watched”, I realized the files grew to contain their contents. The cards were packed tightly, and yet after two or three yards, I hadn’t found the end of the file. I shut it, shamed, not so much by the quality of shows but more by the vast time I knew that file represented. When I came to a file marked “Lustful Thoughts,” I felt a chill run through my body. I pulled the file out only an inch, not willing to test its size, and drew out a card. I shuddered at its detailed content.
I felt sick to think that such a moment had been recorded. An almost animal rage broke on me. One thought dominated my mind: “No one must ever see these cards! No one must ever see this room! I have to destroy them!” In insane frenzy, I yanked the file out. Its size didn’t matter now. I had to empty it and burn the cards. But as I took it at one end and began pounding it on the floor, I could not dislodge a single card. I became desperate and pulled out a card, only to find it as strong as steel when I tried to tear it.
Defeated and utterly helpless, I returned the file to its slot. Leaning my forehead against the wall, I let out a long self-pitying sigh. And then I saw it… The title bore “People I Have Shared the Gospel With.” The handle was brighter than those around it, newer, almost unused. I pulled on its handle, and a small box not more than three inches long fell into my hands. I could count the cards it contained on one hand.
And then the tears came. I began to weep, sobs so deep that they hurt. They started in my stomach and shook through me. I fell on my knees and cried. I cried out of shame, from the overwhelming shame of it all. The rows of file shelves swirled in my tear-filled eyes. No one must ever, ever know of this room. I must lock it up and hide the key. But then as I pushed away the tears, I saw Him.
No, please not Him. Not here. Oh, anyone but Jesus. I watched helplessly as He began to open the files and read the cards. I couldn’t bear to watch his response. And in the moments, I could bring myself to look at His face, I saw a sorrow deeper than my own. He seemed to intuitively go to the worst boxes. Why did He have to read every one? Finally, He turned and looked at me from across the room. He looked at me with pity in His eyes. But this was a pity that didn’t anger me. I dropped my head, covered my face with my hands, and began to cry again. He walked over and put His arm around me. He could have said so many things, but He didn’t say a word. He just cried with me.
Then, He got up and walked back to the wall of files. Starting at one end of the room, He took out a file and, one by one, began to sign His name over mine on each card. “No!” I shouted, rushing to Him. All I could find to say was “No, no,” as I pulled the card from Him. His name shouldn’t be on these cards. But there it was, written in red so rich, so dark, so alive. The name of Jesus covered mine. It was written with His blood. He gently took the card back. He smiled a sad smile and began to sign the cards. I don’t think I’ll ever understand how He did it so quickly, but the next instant, it seemed I heard Him close the last file and walk back to my side. He placed His hand on my shoulder and said, “It is finished.” I stood up, and He led me out of the room. There were still cards to be written.
Let’s get back to the word ENCOUNTER.
EXPERIENCE OF GOD. Through the Word of God, we experience the presence of God in our lives because “Indeed, the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing until it divides soul from spirit, joints from marrow; it is able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart” (Hebrews 4:12). In the First Reading Nehemiah is bringing people of God close to his Law and make them experience his presence among them. Holy Father Pope Francis reflecting on the First Reading says “Nehemiah, who was the governor; Ezra, the priest and scribe; and the priests who taught the people, said to all the people, “This day is consecrated to the Lord.” For us, it is Sunday. Sunday is the day of the encounter of the people with the Lord, the day of the encounter of my family with the Lord. The day of my encounter with the Lord is a day of encounter. “This day is consecrated to the Lord.”
For this reason, Nehemiah, Ezra, and the priests encouraged the people not to mourn and not to weep. The day’s first Reading says that the people wept when they heard the Word; but they wept from emotion, they wept from joy.
When we hear the Word of God, what happens in my heart? Do I pay attention to the Word of God? Do I let it touch my heart, or do I stand there staring at the ceiling thinking of other things, and the Word goes in one ear and out the other, and does not reach the heart? What do I do to prepare myself so that the Word will reach the heart? And when the Word reaches the heart, there are tears of joy and there is the feast. The feast of Sunday cannot be understood without the Word of God, it is not understood. “Then Nehemiah said to them, ‘Go, make a feast’ – and he gave a good recipe for a feast: Eat rich foods and drink sweet wines and send portions to those who have nothing’ – that is, to the poor. The poor are always the altar servers of the Christian feast, the poor! – because this day is consecrated to our Lord; do not be sad, because the joy of the Lord is your strength.
NOTHING can separate from the love of God and his Word because “How sweet are your words to my taste, sweeter than honey to my mouth! Through your precepts I get understanding; therefore, I hate every false way. Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path. I have sworn an oath and confirmed it, to observe your righteous ordinances. I am severely afflicted; give me life, O Lord, according to your word. Accept my offerings of praise, O Lord, and teach me your ordinances. I hold my life in my hand continually, but I do not forget your law” (Psalm 11:103-109). Even in the Second Reading we can see that how St. Paul is encouraging us all to understand that once we have deep encounter with the Lord then we all become one “Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it” Remember the Parable of the Sower who went to sow and the seeds which fell on the good soil produced 30-, 60-, and 100-fold fruit.
CLOSENESS is the core lesson of the Word of God which bring us closer to the Lord to remember though we are mortals, but the Word of God is going to live forever in our hearts and minds “Blessed are you, O Lord; teach me your statutes. With my lips I declare all the ordinances of your mouth. I delight in the way of your decrees as much as in all riches. I will meditate on your precepts and fix my eyes on your ways. I will delight in your statutes; I will not forget your word” (Psalm 119:12-16). St. Peter confirms that if have closeness with the Lord, then we have received the Good News from the Lord “Now that you have purified your souls by your obedience to the truth so that you have genuine mutual love, love one another deeply from the heart. You have been born anew, not of perishable but of imperishable seed, through the living and enduring word of God. For “All flesh is like grass and all its glory like the flower of grass. The grass withers, and the flower falls, but the word of the Lord endures forever.” That word is the good news that was announced to you” (1 Peter 1:22-25).
OPENNESS to hear the word of God is the key to our relationship with the Lord. In today’s Gospel we could see the eyes of everyone present in the synagogue are focused on Jesus. Our encounter with the Lord through the Sacred Scripture always invites us to understand that once we our open to hear and accept his Word, our lives are changed, and we could hear from the Lord “Today this Scripture is being fulfilled in your hearing”. How open are we to His Word?
UNITY is being experienced through the Word of God as St. Paul mentions in the First Reading today. The Word of God teaches us to be united and love one another and chose what is right for us “Surely, this commandment that I am commanding you today is not too hard for you, nor is it too far away. It is not in heaven, that you should say, “Who will go up to heaven for us, and get it for us so that we may hear it and observe it?” Neither is it beyond the sea, that you should say, “Who will cross to the other side of the sea for us, and get it for us so that we may hear it and observe it?” No, the word is very near to you; it is in your mouth and in your heart for you to observe. See, I have set before you today life and prosperity, death, and adversity. If you obey the commandments of the Lord your God that I am commanding you today, by loving the Lord your God, walking in his ways, and observing his commandments, decrees, and ordinances, then you shall live and become numerous, and the Lord your God will bless you in the land that you are entering to possess” (Deuteronomy 30:11-16). Are we united with him who prays “that they all maybe one”?
NO COMPULSION is there to encounter with the Word of God as we see in the story of Adam and Eve. God has given us free will to choose and do. We could see the lives of all the saints in our Catholic Faith that they all came to obey the Word of God with their own free will and that obedience has made to honour them and make them role models of our lives. Today when Jesus is reading the Scroll of Prophet Isaiah and letting people know about his purpose of coming to the world, shows that he is inviting people to listen and understand what is best for them. Do we feel compulsion to read the Word of God, or we enjoy reading it?
TRUSTING in the Lord only comes if we really encounter with his Word. The Book of Psalms is full of the word Trust which keeps inviting us to always rely on the Lord and pray to him; “But truly God has listened; he has given heed to the words of my prayer”. Today what St. Luke is writing to Theophilus, is also writing to us to trust in the Lord Jesus who came to free us from kinds of pains and suffering. We must listen to Prophet Isaiah who is reminding us never to compare our thoughts with the Lord but to trust in him “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways, says the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts. For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return there until they have watered the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the Sower and bread to the eater, so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and succeed in the thing for which I sent it” (55:8-11).
ETERNAL Life gusts from his Word because Jesus being the author of eternal life comes to give us life and life in abundance because God has loved the world so much that he gave his only Begotten Son for us. Prophet Jeremiah says, “Your words were found, and I ate them, and your words became to me a joy and the delight of my heart; for I am called by your name, O Lord, God of hosts” (15:16). Jesus came to free us and restore our eyesight we can see the saving work of the Lord and give praise and glory to his name.
RESTORING our relationship with the Lord is only possible through an encounter with Word of God. We, whenever flip the pages of the Holy Bible and read and meditate on them, we get new insight everyday. How many times we are experience broken relationship with the Lord either due to our business or distraction of the worldly pleasures? However, with the Word of God, we restore our relationship with the Lord “And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in the one body. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly; teach and admonish one another in all wisdom; and with gratitude in your hearts sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs to God. And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him” (Colossians 3:15-16).
The encounter with the Word of God fills us with joy, and this joy is my strength, it is our strength. Christians are joyful because they have accepted, they have received the Word of God in their hearts, and they continually encounter the Word, they seek it out. This is the message for today, for all of us. A brief examination of conscience: ‘How do I listen to the Word of God? Or do I simply not listen? How do I encounter the Lord in His Word, which is the Bible?’ And then, ‘Am I convinced that the joy of the Lord is my strength?’ Sadness is not our strength.
Other Sermons In This Series
March 18, 2022
May 20, 2022
August 12, 2022