23/24th January 2021

posted 25 Jan 2021, 03:48 by Parish Office
Homily for the Third Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B – Sunday of the Word of God & Octave of Christian Unity (23 & 24/1/21) 
Today is Sunday of the Word of God, and so it’s my job today to encourage you to read the Bible. If you switch off and don’t remember anything else, please remember these two points: firstly, the Bible is a Catholic book, not a Protestant one, and secondly, you should all be reading it. Okay then – on with the show. 
The Bible is in two halves: the Old Testament, which prepares the way for Christ, and the New Testament, which tells us all about Christ. So the Old Testament was written in the years BC, and the New Testament, the years AD. If you look at the contents page, you will see that the Bible is actually a collection of books, and the contents page might have them grouped into different sections: major and minor prophets, Gospels, letters of St Paul etc. 
The Bible didn’t fall from the sky in its current form. The Catholic Church decided, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, which books went into the Bible, and which ones were left out. So when the Protestant Reformation took place and the Protestants rejected the authority of the Catholic Church, one of the things that goes with it is they took a different view as to what should go into the Bible – so a Protestant Bible has only 39 books in the Old Testament, whilst a Catholic one has 46, plus a few other extra chapters in some of the other books as well. So when your Protestant friend asks you, “Where is Purgatory in the Bible?” and you say, “There’s a hint of it in 2 Maccabees ch 12”, when he hands you his Bible, you can’t find 2 Maccabees, because the Protestants took it out. To be fair, some Protestant Bibles do have the extra books, listed either as “Apocrypha” or “Deuterocanonical Books”; what’s more, the Orthodox have a few extra bits in their Bible that we don’t have, so it all depends on which authority has the authority to decide what goes into the Bible. 
Okay, so a Catholic Bible is a Catholic book, and some of them even have some sort of official Catholic authorisation in the front of them. But if your book at home is a Protestant one, then you can still read it. I did when I was younger, and look what happened to me. But obviously, not all the books have the same status. Just think about how we celebrate the Mass: we sit for the first reading, psalm and second reading, but we stand for the Gospel, the most important part of the Bible. And besides, there are some parts that are perhaps of lesser interest, such as long genealogies where so-and-so begat so-and-so, who begat so-and-so and so on. There are important lessons to glean from these sections, but it’s more specialised knowledge.
One way of reading the Bible is through curiosity. Today we have the first reading from the prophet Jonah. It’s an extract from the book of Jonah. So it doesn’t tell you that this calling of Jonah is God giving him a second chance, after he messed up big time the first time round. It also doesn’t tell you how Jonah gets into a bit of a mood afterwards, and God has to make him be a bit less selfish and think about others a bit more. The book of Jonah is only four chapters, so you could read it before going to bed. And unlike some novels you can buy, the book of Jonah speaks about God. It’s also a bit funny and farcical at times. One of the things about some of the characters in the Old Testament is that they are characters. They aren’t perfect; some are scared, some are naughty, Esau gives away his birthright so he can have something to eat, and Jacob colludes with his mother to trick his father into giving him the blessing the Esau should have had. The characters in the Old Testament are not Christ – they are not perfect. A quick word about the Gospel, and then I’ll finish. We hear today about the calling of Simon, Andrew, James and John. Each Gospel writer has his own style, and the Gospels themselves are a summary of what happened – they don’t give you a full script of what everyone said, or what everyone had for breakfast, and they only occasionally tell you what the weather was like. St Mark’s Gospel in particular is concerned with keeping things short – a bit like this homily. It’s the shortest of all the Gospels, if that inspires you to try reading it first before you try St Matthew’s version. So when Jesus calls them and they respond, the chances are that they had met, seen, or at least heard about Jesus beforehand. You wouldn’t follow any old person who said to you, “Follow me”. But imagine: they see Jesus walking towards them, and they say to each other: “Look, that’s Jesus of Nazareth”. They’ve already got such an admiration for Him. Then He looks at them and says, “Follow me”, and they don’t say, “Let me think about it”. This is Jesus who is calling, the chance of a lifetime. He calls, and you go. Sometimes it can be useful to have some sort of commentary when reading the Bible, but be careful which ones you read. Some are written by people who don’t believe in God, so the explanation they give is worthless.
So I said at the beginning that there are two things I want you to remember (can you remember them?): the first is that the Bible is a Catholic book and the second is that you should read it. So guess what your homework is? Maybe homework is the wrong word. Out of curiosity, take a look at some of the more intriguing books of the Bible – there’s something there for every taste.