TWENTY-FIRST SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME (2021)
Readings:Joshua 24:2-3, 16-23Psalms 34:2-3, 16-23Ephesians 5:21-32John 6:60-69
The Solemnity of the Assumption gave us pause in a four week cycle from the grumbling that seems to surround Jesus’ Bread of Life discourse in the Gospel of John. John is honest in his assessment of what Jesus has been telling them: “This saying is hard; who can accept it?…. As a result of this, many of His disciples returned to their former way of life and no longer accompanied [Jesus].”
In a vacuum what Jesus has to say is “hard,” very hard. Recall Jesus’ language of “eating His flesh,” and “drinking His blood!” Think of the inexplainable phenomena of Jesus walking on the water, and the marvelous multiplication of the loaves and fishes! Ponder if you will Jesus comparing Himself to the manna that came down from heaven, or in today’s gospel Jesus referencing “ascending to where he was before!” The crowds of happily fed people who were following Jesus had no theology that would equip them to fully understand what Jesus was saying, and so their murmuring and grumbling is completely understandable.
We recall during this four week cycle the grumbling and murmuring of the Israelites who, although freed by Moses from the oppression of the Egyptians, were unhappy with their food and their surroundings, and they wasted no time letting Moses know of their displeasure. Our first reading from the Book of Joshua is the culmination of all the grumbling, and planted now in the Promised Land, with the last words he will ever say, Joshua wants the people to make a definitive choice, renewing the covenant God made with His people. Living with the Egyptians for so many years led to many religious compromises, and the Israelites, like so many people in their day, “hedged their bets” and worshipped a coterie of gods (the Golden Calf is a perfect example). Before he dies, Joshua wants the Israelites to make a choice, setting an example and stating: “As for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.”
The tribes are reminded of all that the Lord God has done for them (in much greater detail in the full passage), and they make a choice: “Far be it from us to forsake the Lord for the service of other gods…. Therefore we also will serve the Lord, for He is our God.”
Whether it is the Israelites of old, or the crowds that followed Jesus, or those who populate our churches today, people are called to make a choice. The choice is not based on how much we have been fed, or whether a miracle is performed in our favor. Rather, our choice is made by a grateful heart that remembers what God has done for us, and not just in our lifetime, but from the moment of Creation, and, more importantly, from the moment God entered our world, taking on human flesh and becoming one of us. The God of the Israelites thought so much of them that, from the very house of David, God would enter the world, and for thirty-three years He would give witness to who God is, and what God expected of His people.
God never forces Himself on people, and Jesus seems to fully understand that some people will come and go. As He asked the Twelve in today’s gospel, so also He frequently asks us: “do you also want to leave?” Our lives need to be lived with the resolve of Peter, and answer definitively: “Master, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and are convinced that you are the Holy One of God.”