Friday, August 21, 2009

21st Sunday of Ordinary Time –Year B – (23rd August, 2009)

21st Sunday of Ordinary Time –Year B – (23rd August, 2009)

(Joshua 24.1-2, 15-17, 18b; Ephesians 5.21-32: John 6.61-70)

A certain young man was in love with this girl. They had been together for a few years. One day the girl asked him ‘Are you going to marry me or not? He said that he wasn’t really sure, so he asked for more time.. She said that she would give him 6 more months to make up his mind and then to choose. Because of his own parents’ bad marriage and the number of their friends who were divorced he was afraid to risk. At the end of the 6 months the girl asked him what his choice was - to marry her or not. He said that he still wasn’t sure and needed more time. So she told him that their relationship was over, as she couldn’t wait any longer.

The young man wanted to be sure before making his choice. He wanted to keep his options open. He was afraid to risk all by choosing to marry the girl. What if the relationship didn’t work out? What if she or he became seriously ill? What if he lost his job etc.?

In the gospel today we have something similar – People are being asked to make a choice, as we are, to choose to follow Jesus or not. Will we choose to follow him for a while and see how things work out and if they don’t we can always opt out of our choice of him?

In last Sunday’s gospel Jesus had said ‘Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his Blood you will not have life in you’. The response of many to that statement is the beginning of today’s gospel. They said ‘This is a hard saying, who can accept it’. They were trying to understand it in a rational, logical way. But really the only way we can accept that Jesus gives life in its fullest is through our faith, our belief that what he says is true. It is a hard saying because Jesus not only challenges our intellect but more so our way of life, behaviour, our attitudes etc.

Faith is critical. Faith is more than just having true doctrine. It is first of all a commitment to a close relationship with Jesus. It evaluates whether one’s belief are in conformity with the words and actions of Jesus, whether they are ‘spirit and life’. Do they empower us to face life calmly and courageously?

We know of course that the words ‘eat my flesh and drink my blood’ are not to be taken in their literal sense. It is Jesus’ dramatic way of asking us to accept him totally - his thoughts, attitudes, values, his life-view must become ours.

There’s very much a ‘take-it-or-leave- it’ approach in today’s gospel. There is no attempt at gentle persuasion. The people had seen or heard of him working miracles and giving other signs too. They had heard his preaching which was very powerful so much so that once the Jewish religious leader sent the temple guards to arrest him but they came back without him saying ‘no man speaks like this man speaks’. Even they recognized that Jesus’ words were special.

Neither does Jesus treat us like puppets on a string which have to do exactly as the puppet master decides. No, God in Jesus gives us a choice like the people in the first reading were given a choice by Joshua to choose for or against the Lord.

So where do you and I stand? We can as Christians choose to turn away from Jesus because we feel the demands are too much. Yet you and I are here today because we have chosen to be here. We have said ‘yes’ by our very actions that we believe that Jesus alone can give us eternal life beginning right now with its fulness to come after we die. But we must live out our lives daily and these must show that our Sunday worship must be backed up by our behaviour in daily life. As St. Francis noted, we should preach the gospel at all times, using words when necessary.

If you and I are honest, we can all say that at times when the demands of following Jesus were too much we have turned back but soon realised we were always loved and accepted and forgiven for whatever wrong we did and we started off again trying to be faithful. This may happen a number of times but if we turn back to God we are embraced as loved children of His.

In our world today there may be many reasons to turn away from Jesus, 1) a wrong understanding of the gospel message 2) negative witnessing by followers of Jesus, i.e.. scandalising behaviour from some Christians, be they priests or lay people 3) the powerful attractions of a seductive world, which are not compatible with the Christian vision etc.

Being a Christian today has different demands to being one 20 or 30 years ago. What is Jesus asking of me now? Where is he leading me? How am I responding? All of you are here this morning because you believe in Jesus despite the struggles we all have to follow him closely. Sometimes like Peter and the other apostles we may fail but God loves us totally and unconditionally. He will always forgive us if we turn back no matter how long we stayed away. He is a faithful God and he reminds us that the Eucharist, the sacraments and prayer as well as the good example of yourselves and others are always available to encourage and empower us.

“Lord Jesus, may we call often on your Holy Spirit to help us to be faithful to you always. Amen”.

(Fr. Jim Kirstein, SMA. 18th August, 2009)

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