Twenty First Sunday: August 23, 2009

Joshua 24:1-2,15-18; Ephesians 5:21-32; John 6:60-69

Faith is always a matter of choice.  We choose to believe in persons, in institutions, in values and causes.  All our real and good relationships, our good commitments arise out of such choices. This process of faith invariably involves certain amount of risk.  To believe in nothing and go ahead as if nothing exists is the end of the path and thus a type of death.  Our life in order to progress demands a risk of each one of us.  We read in the book of Joshua today that he invites the tribe of Israel to choose faith and commitment to each other and to God. Their passage from slavery to freedom is well in the past and new generations need to make this story their own.  They are  given now a challenge by Joshua to reconsider their common history and recommit to their faith in the new land.  In the gospel we have Peter who makes the choice and the commitment on  behalf of the disciples in a time of change and tension.  He sees the wavering of their faith and commitment to Jesus and moving away from him and speaks boldly on behalf of the twelve of their loyalty and faith in him.  Down the centuries we have people who have taken the risk and made their commitment for the Lord in the midst of tensions and wavering of faith. We have the faith of Mary and Paul and several others who have remained loyal to the divine call even at the cost of risking their lives. Today they all invite us to reflect and choose continuously our faith and trust in Jesus. As believers we stand with Joshua and Peter and others in accepting that risk in our ongoing adventure of faith and hope.

The Gospel of John in the entire episode after the multiplication of loaves,  Jesus speaks of giving himself to us in person and as we see now in the Eucharist.  In today’s gospel he finally asks whether we accept this offer of his and whether we truly appreciate of the communion and oneness with him. He clearly indicates to us that Eucharist means being one with him and united to him. The disciples are being presented with a crucial choice to accept him or to reject. It is indeed a matter of challenge. At this juncture Jesus turns to the inner circle of the Twelve and asks: “Do you also wish to go away from me?” Peter, speaking for all, says: “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and to know that you are the Holy One of God.” There is the love expectation and family support for Jesus and Peter gives him his and the group’s loyalty. Jesus is everything to them.

The entire Gospel scene contrasts with the scene at Shechem presented in the book of Joshua as we hear in today’s First Reading. God’s people have just entered the promised land. The people already living there have their own gods, the gods who may look very attractive to the Israelites. Joshua has called together the elders, leaders, judges and scribes of Israel and presents them with a choice: either they can continue to serve the God who brought them out of Egypt and through the desert to the land where they are now settled, or they can adopt the gods of the Amorites whose land they have conquered for themselves. The choice is very crucial in the sense that the people had already shown their infidelity to God and to Moses. Under the leadership of Joshua and at the thresh hold of promised land they had to make the choice. The closing of the first reading tells us that the people were prepared to make a firm commitment in serving the Lord, “for He is their God.” He is the Lord God who brought their ancestors up from the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery, and who did great signs in their sight. He is the Lord God who protected them all the way they went and among the people through whom they passed.  He is the same Lord God who brought our ancestors, including each and every one of us, out of the kingdom of darkness. He is the same compassionate Lord God who, calls for their fidelity. In fact, they will not always be faithful to this promise and will fall away many times as we find in the history of Israel.

For those who do not wish to go away, choosing to serve the Lord God, St. Paul in today’s reading from the Letter to the Ephesians shows the right way.  We are to be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ has forgiven us. In our present day we have the call to the forgiveness of the debts to the poor countries, forgiving of sentences to show mercy towards prisoners in the hope of their conversion, help those stricken in poverty and the migrants. These are perfect examples of the love of Christ. For if we cannot share our wealth with others,  we cannot call ourselves Christians.  For it is the act of love that changes the heart, not the act of oppression and revenge! Our vocation is  to be imitators of God, as beloved children.  As Jesus came to serve, we are called to serve one another. His service consists in our serving our brothers and sisters.  Love is also manifested in the matrimonial relationship. Proponents of “women’s liberation” may not be very happy with some of the things said about marriage and wives in that passage. Paul says that wives are to be subject to their husbands and husbands are to love their wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her. As the Church is subject to Christ, the husband is subject to the Church. All these truths have been revealed to us by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit in the writing of the Holy Bible. While everyone is subject to someone of higher authority, this does not give the authority to the Church to abuse its power, nor to the husband to abuse his power. In love, we are to grow in holiness as brothers and sisters in Christ. We are to grow in holiness so the husband can present his wife to God in a beauty that is equal to the splendor in which Christ will present the Church to the heavenly Father, without a spot or wrinkle or anything of the kind.

We are all members of the Body of Christ. As such, our membership requires that we tend to those under our authority in the same way as we take care of our bodies. No one hates his body. He nourishes it and tenderly cares for it, just as Christ does for the Church. Hence in the Gospel of John, we heard Jesus say, “Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you.” Through those words, Jesus was preparing the way for the revelation of His continued Divine Presence in the world through the Sacrament of the Holy Eucharist. Jesus was saying, that unless we receive the Living Bread, the Holy Eucharist, we have no life in us. Many found it difficult to accept and started leaving him. But those who had faith in the Lord, those who had been called by the Father, they trusted in Jesus. They trusted that in time, their hearts would be open to what Jesus was saying.  We know how shocking are the words of Jesus if they were heard literally: “Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you.” Now, not only the religious leaders but Jesus’ own disciples are deeply scandalized. They find this teaching too difficult to accept. It is Jesus’ dramatic way of saying that we must accept him totally, without any conditions or reservation. His thoughts and attitudes, his values, his life-view must become totally ours. Above all we are to identify with him in the offering of his flesh and the pouring out of his blood on the cross, the symbol of God’s unutterable love for us.

And, in the Eucharist, with which this chapter is closely linked, we recognise in our going to communion the accepting of that challenge to be totally one with Jesus. It is not enough for him to come to us; we also have to go all the way to him, with him. When the Body of Christ is offered to us, we respond with a total act of faith in the Real Presence of Jesus and a total commitment to the community we serve.  Only with a deep, unconditional trust in Jesus will we have that deeper insight into the real meaning of Jesus’ words. It requires an absolutely open mind ready to receive him fully.  This indeed is a gift of God who alone can attract us and keep us closer to him. Like the twelve disciples who chose to stay with the Lord and made their total commitment, so also let us make our commitment to him to say, Lord to whom shall we go; you have the words of eternal life Amen.

Why Go To Church: A Church goer wrote a letter to the editor of a newspaper and complained that it made no sense to go to church every Sunday. “I’ve gone for 30 years now,” he wrote, “and in that time I have heard something like 3,000 sermons. But for the life of me, I can’t remember a single one of them. So, I think I’m wasting my time and the pastors are wasting theirs by giving sermons at all.” This started a real controversy in the “Letters to the Editor” column, much to the delight of the editor. It went on for weeks until someone wrote this clincher: “I’ve been married for 30 years now.. In that time my wife has cooked some 32,000 meals. But, for the life of me, I cannot recall the entire menu for a single one of those meals. But I do know this.. They all nourished me and gave me the strength I needed to do my work. If my wife had not given me these meals, I would be physically dead today.  Likewise, if I had not gone to church for nourishment, I would be spiritually dead today!”

One Response to “Twenty First Sunday: August 23, 2009”

  1. K Thomas Says:

    Very good homily. Keep up your good work

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