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Twenty-ninth Sunday in Ordinary Time: Words and the Word both have great power


Sunday Scripture readings, Oct. 20, 2019

Twenty-ninth Sunday in Ordinary Time

1) Ex 17:8-13

Psalm 121:1-8

2) 2 Tm 3:14-4:2

Gospel: Lk 18:1-8

Words and the Word both have great power

Some 40 years ago, Daniel Everett mastered what is perhaps one of the only human languages with no descriptive words for colors, past or future, and, most amazingly, with no words to express numbers.

Everett first traveled to the Amazon as a missionary and eventually became a scholar of the anumeric language of the Brazilian indigenous people called the Pirahã. Everett’s findings about the language of these hunter-gatherer people quickly became the focus of much interest and debate.

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

Linguists were particularly keen to understand why and how this indigenous people of the Amazon had no need for words for specific numbers. Instead of precise words to denote numbers like “three, four or five” the Pirahã words described quantities with words like “few or fewer.”

We take for granted the vast treasury of words that describe in detail the world all around us. The words you read on this page are only a small fraction of the words you will read or hear today.

As you check your email inbox, listen to a favorite podcast, scan your social media pages and respond to family, friends or co-workers, you are immersed in the myriad words that make up the daily traffic of human communication.

Words that describe the nature and number of things, time, place and every dimension of human experience are an inescapable part of daily existence.

In today’s second reading, St. Paul invites us to pause and reflect on the word of God as it comes to us in the Scriptures. We are invited to go beyond the many words that make up daily life to the one divine word, who is God. St. Paul reflects on the origin of God’s word, its relevance for life and the call to take time to hear and reflect on God’s word.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church tells us that Christianity is not a “religion of the book,” but a religion of the word of God. When the Scriptures are proclaimed, God himself is speaking to his people and Christ is present in his word. In the Scriptures, God speaks to us through human words. Just as Jesus, the eternal word made flesh, became one of us, so does God’s word find expression in human language in the words of the Bible.

This is why St. Paul exhorts his audience, and us, to remain faithful to what we have heard, learned and believed in the word of God. In the midst of all the words that surround us day in and day out, only God’s word is the wisdom that heals and reconciles us to God.

St. Paul also reminds his audience, and us, that all Scripture is inspired by God. So faith, gratitude and reverence are the most appropriate attitudes in the presence of God’s word. For God desires to speak a divine word that transcends every human word. So we pray, “Speak to me, Lord.”

Reflection Question:

How does God’s word speak to you today?


Sullivan is secretary for Catholic education of the Archdiocese of Washington.