THE TWENTY-FIRST SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME – B – August 23, 2015

 

A reading from the Book of Joshua 24:1-2, 15-17, 18b

A reading from St. Paul’s Letter to the Ephesians 5:21-32

A reading from the holy Gospel according to John 6:60-69

 

“Why does it have to take so long? Why can’t I just be baptized and get on with my life. Phillip baptized the Ethiopian after only a day of catechesis. Why can’t that happen for me?”

The earnestness is sincere and so is the impatience. The readings this Sunday give insight to the Church’s recommendation that a catechumen, one journeying toward Baptism, should go through a full liturgical cycle before making the Lenten journey to the Font. The idea is that the catechumen will have the opportunity to make the full journey through the Gospel readings, experience a full year of worshiping with the parish community, and thereby be in a position to make the commitment that begins with Baptism. The commitment? To die with Christ so as to live with Christ.

It is clear in both the first reading and the Gospel that beginning the journey of faith is one thing. Committing to fidelity for the long haul is another. In the second reading Marriage is praised as the sacrament that is a sign of the union between Christ and the Church. How many couples eagerly promise to live in faithfulness with their spouse until death do them part? How many of those marriages end before five years are out? And how many of the formerly married say in one way or another, “I had no idea what marriage would be like, or how much work it would be to live out a marriage commitment.”

Christ’s love for the Church is the model. We must never forget that Christ’s love proved itself to the shedding of the last drop of blood and water that flowed from his pierced side. No one should ever say fidelity would be easy. Christ certainly did not.

Joshua in the first reading, near the end of his life, and having brought the Israelites to the Promised Land of Canaan, challenges the people to renew their commitment to follow the Lord and not turn away to follow Baal. Some of their ancestors had not been faithful to the Lord. What about them? Make the choice, he says. Then Joshua testifies to his faith and the faith of his family. “As for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.” He is saying that they will be faithful to the covenant, faithful to the Mosaic Law, and faithful to G-O-D. The people remember what the Lord did for them through all those years of their formation in the desert. “He performed those great miracles before our very eyes and protected us along our entire journey…Therefore we also will serve the Lord, for the Lord is our God.”

For the past few weeks we have been listening to the sixth chapter of John’s Gospel that puts before us the discourse on the Bread of Life that Jesus claims to be. We have heard how central to our lives the Bread must be. Some may have been uncomfortable with the graphic and uncompromising language that Jesus used in the proclamation to the crowds and to his disciples. “Amen, amen, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you do not have life within you.” This is a pretty clear either/or statement. There is no room for compromise.

This Sunday’s Gospel, the word means Good News, opens with disciples reeling from what Jesus has said. “This saying is hard; who can accept it?” Notice that Jesus offers no sympathy to them in their stunned state. Rather he presses the point further that he is making. To speak of the Son of Man ascending to where he was before is to bring in the whole question of the Cross and how that event will be interpreted. Wheat is ground in the mill to become flour. Jesus will be crushed by the way and weight of the Cross. In other words, to be with Jesus on the Way will never be an easy walk – easy to begin, perhaps, but never easy to complete.

Every time we hear the Gospel we have to make a decision to believe or not to believe, to respond and so be strengthened in our conversion, or to say, “Who can believe this?” At this crossroads point of the Gospel, the decision is to accept that Jesus is the Bread of Life or to turn away. Jesus reminds us that it all depends on grace. Jesus knew that some to whom he preached did not come to faith. And worse, he knew that a disciple would betray him. But he also knew that acceptance of his word depended on the gift of faith from the Father. None have it within themselves to do this on their own.

Here I think it is important to reflect on your own experience and to ponder the moment you first believed. Many can recall that moment with vivid clarity. That aha moment is tantamount to the light that breaks on the horizon and puts an end to night. What is as amazing is the awareness that often times faith can come unbidden. For others, faith began after having long run from it. St. Augustine’s experience is not unique in the history of the Church. Augustine marveled when he realized he was a believer having told his mother that he would never follow her ways. “Late have I loved you,” he came to pray. “You have made us for yourself and our hearts are restless until they rest in you.” That is speaking through hindsight and amazing awareness. Reflect on your own first moment of faith.

It is also true that some can go through the traces and never come to make that commitment, never having that moment of dawning faith. They are like the crowds that followed Jesus, but never made the decision to be disciples. Even some of those in the pews on Sunday morning can be there out of habit, or to keep peace in the family. But do they believe? Is Jesus the center of their being? Having never been in crisis, they have never had to confront the question. And so they continue on.

They, we all need to hear Jesus ask, “Do you believe this?” Taking the question to heart, we need to make the response. If we wonder how we can do that, remember that grace is there for us in this venture. No one can successfully negotiate faith on his/her own. This Sunday’s Gospel gives us an ample opportunity to reflect and to decide.

Notice that many who heard Jesus, many who were designated as disciples, i.e., many who had made the decision about him, returned to their former way of life and no longer accompanied him. The demands made by faith in Jesus were too much for them. Alas. Recognizing that fact, Jesus asks us today: Do you also want to leave? Have you ever thought about that, thought about life without Christ? I know that I have and the thought chills me. Part of that realization comes from the importance that the community we call Church plays in my life. I cannot imagine life without he Church, no matter how difficult that life becomes.

There is a realization that is important for us to take to heart. The faith journey is not one we make alone. Remember when we spoke of Catechumens earlier? Part of the necessity for their making the journey through the full cycle stems from the importance of their learning what it means to be part of this faith community. They learn by experiencing that community in worship, and come to stand in awe of the wonder of being able to say, “We believe.” The faith community prays for them, blesses them, and encourages them to continue to the Font and beyond.

 

It is in that process, too, that we come to understand the centrality of Eucharist; why it is that every Sunday we come back to the Table, to gather around the Table, to give thanks at the Table in the sacrifice that is the Eucharist, and to eat and drink from the Bread and Cup on the Table. It is that food that is our strength for the journey. It is in the sharing of that meal that we come to understand the truth that we are one in Christ. It is in eating Christ’s flesh and drinking his blood that we realize we have come to believe and are convinced that Jesus is the Holy One of God, and in believing, know that we have life in his name.

Sincerely,

Didymus

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