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Third Sunday in Ordinary Time: Unity, not division, is the promise God desires to fulfill


Sunday Scripture readings, Jan. 23, 2022: Third Sunday in Ordinary Time

1) Neh 8:2-6, 8-10   Psalm 19:8-10, 15
2) 1 Cor 12:12-30 or 12:12-14, 27   Gospel: Lk 1:1-4, 4:14-21

Unity, not division, is the promise God desires to fulfill

The biblical story of the Tower of Babel begins with the surprising detail that at one time the whole world shared the same language with the same words! This is unimaginable since we know only the reality of different languages across cultures and nations.

Language experts estimate there are thousands of languages across the world today. People of the same country are divided further into smaller groups with their own distinct languages.

The author of Genesis then recounts how division entered the world as the people began to turn away from God and rely on themselves instead. To reach the heavens they decided to build a city and tower soaring into the sky. They wanted to make a name for themselves with their human achievement.

So, they built a steep pyramid, like a modern-day skyscraper. Such brick towers or ziggurats were widespread in the ancient Mediterranean and their ruins can still be seen today.

The problem was not their hard work or even the tower itself, but their desire to reach the heavens by their own power, apart from God! The sinfulness of human pride and self-sufficiency became a source of weakness, not strength.

Jem Sullivan writes for Catholic News Service (CNS photo/courtesy Jem Sullivan)

God saw their intentions and confused their language and scattered them across the earth. No human achievement, however impressive, allows humanity to attain the heavens. To reach God we need the grace of God!

The biblical story does not end there. For God desires to bring creation back to the original unity it was created for. Unity, not division, is the promise God desires to fulfill from the beginning.

St. Paul, in the second reading, tells the Corinthians that God restores the world to unity in Jesus Christ. Paul uses the image of the one body with its many parts to speak of the unity of the church through the gift of the Holy Spirit in baptism.

Paul writes, “As a body is one though it has many parts, and all the parts of the body, though many, are one body, so also Christ. For in one Spirit, we were all baptized into one body, whether Jews or Greeks, slaves, or free persons, and we were all given to drink of one Spirit.”

In the Gospel, Jesus enters the synagogue of Nazareth, his hometown. There, Jesus reveals the truth of his divine mission to unite all in his person!

Before the assembly, Jesus reads aloud from the prophet Isaiah of God’s rich promises to bring good tidings to the poor, liberty to captives, sight to the blind, freedom for the oppressed, and a year of renewed blessings from God.

Then Jesus speaks astounding words when he says, “Today this Scripture passage is fulfilled in your hearing.”

In Jesus, God restores the unity of humanity torn apart by many bitter and hateful divisions born of pride, rejection of God and self-sufficiency. In the power of the Holy Spirit, received at baptism, we turn humbly to God, the source of all unity, to pray, “speak to me, Lord.”

Reflection Question:
How does Jesus bring unity to your life, family and community?

Sullivan is a professor at The Catholic University of America