January 26, 2020 –
The 3rd Sunday in Ordinary Time
… so that the cross of Christ might not be emptied of its meaning.
The Word of God became Flesh and dwelt among us. Yet He dwelt among us so that He could die for us. On Calvary on Good Friday, the Word sacrificed Himself—Flesh and Blood, soul and divinity—to God the Father. The meaning of this singular act of self-sacrifice is two-fold: that sinners might be reconciled to God, so that God might make them His children.
The Word of God is a Person. This truth is often obscured in regard to preaching. Preaching, of course, is essential to the Word of God’s ministry. Nonetheless, the preaching of the Word of God is a means to a far greater end, just as the divine Son in all things leads us to the divine Father.
The ultimate end of all preaching is communion with God the Father, through God the Son, in God the Holy Spirit. Yet in His divine Providence, God chose to accomplish this communion through the cross of Christ. All of Jesus’ words and works on earth lead to Calvary. The cross of Christ is the earthly end—the proximate end—of our discipleship.
This Sunday’s Scripture passages focus our attention upon the Word of God. The Gospel Reading is from only the fourth of the 28 chapters of Matthew’s Gospel account. The first two chapters, of course, focus on the advent and infancy of Jesus. So today’s Gospel Reading takes place early in Jesus’ public ministry, and focuses on the basics.
That’s fitting for this Third Sunday in Ordinary Time. The beginning of the Church year, of course, focused on the advent and infancy of Jesus. So today’s Gospel Reading during the early part of Ordinary Time focuses on the basics of following Jesus.
After Jesus calls two sets of brothers to become “fishers of men”, He labors at three works of public ministry amidst “all of Galilee”. Jesus teaches, preaches and cures the sick. Yet the fact that the short form of today’s Gospel Reading ends by focusing upon Jesus’ preaching suggests how central preaching is to His public ministry.
In fact, the only words that we hear Jesus preaching in today’s Gospel Reading are: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” Repentance is the first word of Jesus’ preaching the Word of God. From the perspective of those who hear the Word of God, repentance is the first word of following Jesus. When Jesus later commands His disciples to take up their crosses each day [Lk 9:23], this command includes the embrace of daily repentance.
Likewise, Saint Paul in today’s Second Reading draws our attention to the link between preaching and the cross of Christ. It’s telling that the larger point of this passage is divisions among the Corinthians. Paul’s remedy for divisions within the Church is the cross of Christ. He even speaks to one of the pitfalls that he, as a preacher, has to work to avoid. This pitfall is the “human eloquence” that captivates in the short term but can bear no lasting fruit, and in fact does lasting harm by creating an expectation and desire within Christians for what is shallow.
The depth of the Word of God is only found finally in the cross of Christ. Every word of the Old Testament is fulfilled in the cross of Christ on Calvary on Good Friday, just as each word and work during Jesus’ public ministry was so fulfilled. Every word and work of Jesus after His Resurrection, as every word in the New Testament books that follow the four Gospel accounts, as every work of the Church in her holy sacraments, flows from the power of the Cross of Christ. Of no sacrament is this more true than the Most Blessed Sacrament of the Eucharist, where the Word made Flesh offers Himself in sacrifice, so that we can join sacramentally in His singular act of salvation.
By embracing Jesus’ cross, we can come to communion with the divine Person of Jesus Christ Himself. Only through this Cross can the Christian enter the life of the Son, and through the Son the embrace of the Father. In the order of salvation, this is the setting where we hear the providential role of the Word of God.