Sunday, August 22
Twenty-first Sunday in Ordinary Time
John 6: 60-69
Joshua gathered together all the tribes of Israel at Shechem,
summoning their elders, their leaders,
their judges, and their officers.
When they stood in ranks before God,
Joshua addressed all the people:
“If it does not please you to serve the LORD,
decide today whom you will serve,
the gods your fathers served beyond the River
or the gods of the Amorites in whose country you are now dwelling.
As for me and my household, we will serve the LORD.”
But the people answered,
“Far be it from us to forsake the LORD
for the service of other gods.
For it was the LORD, our God,
who brought us and our fathers up out of the land of Egypt,
out of a state of slavery.
He performed those great miracles before our very eyes
and protected us along our entire journey
and among the peoples through whom we passed.
Therefore we also will serve the LORD, for he is our God.”
Many of Jesus’ disciples who were listening said,
“This saying is hard; who can accept it?”
Since Jesus knew that his disciples were murmuring about this,
he said to them, “Does this shock you?
What if you were to see the Son of Man ascending
to where he was before?
It is the spirit that gives life,
while the flesh is of no avail.
The words I have spoken to you are Spirit and life.
But there are some of you who do not believe.”
Jesus knew from the beginning the ones who would not believe
and the one who would betray him.
And he said,
“For this reason I have told you that no one can come to me
unless it is granted him by my Father.”
As a result of this,
many of his disciples returned to their former way of life
and no longer accompanied him.
Jesus then said to the Twelve, “Do you also want to leave?”
Simon Peter answered him, “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.”
As I began to write the reflection for this week, there was so much swirling around in my head and heart that it was hard to focus. So much is happening in our world, church and country: the Dixie fire in Northern California that has been burning for over a month with little signs of slowing down; the UN’s report on climate change, warning us that the earth is heating up much faster than was anticipated; the assassination, earthquake and flooding in Haiti; the withdrawal of troops and the evacuation of thousands from Afghanistan; the ongoing divisions in our Church and the Covid virus with the Delta variant still not under control. How can I approach these readings and not be concerned about all that is happening around us?
Usually, I focus on the Gospel, but the First Reading from Joshua and the Gospel from John are very intertwined. I encourage you to reread both today and throughout the week. The backstory of Joshua is important. It has been quite a while since the Israelites conquered the Promised Land and they had become lax in their faithfulness to the Covenant. We are coming in at the end of one of Joshua’s discourses. He knows that his own death is near and he is giving the people his last message. He has warned them of the disastrous consequences of unfaithfulness to the Law of Moses. Joshua is having what we might call a “fish-or-cut-bait meeting.” He tells them, “choose this day whom you will serve,” and then gives his own response, “but as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord” (Joshua 24:15).
That is very similar to the passage from John. Jesus is having a serious conversation with the disciples, and we are coming in at the end of that conversation, so it is a bit confusing. Jesus is quite clear that his way is not the easy way. The saying he was referring to in particular comes right before today’s passage… “ I am the bread of life. Your ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness, yet they died. But here is the bread that comes down from heaven, which anyone may eat and not die. I am the living bread that came down from heaven.” Jesus is reminding them that HE IS THE BREAD OF LIFE and they must eat his body and drink his blood. . Often we limit this to mean each of us receiving Communion regularly. As awesome and important that the reception of Communion is, if we limit it to just that individual act of eating and drinking then we miss the essence of Jesus’ message. St. Augustine names it for us. When giving communion he would often say, “Become what you eat.” The Bread of life is not meant for individuals. It was and is given to ALL. WE must become the Bread of Life. WE must become the real presence in the world. WE must accept the whole message of Jesus. Jesus is our daily bread and he commissioned us to be the daily bread of life for others. The disciples have to decide. It was time to “fish or cut bait.” Will they, collectively follow Jesus or choose a different way? Some choose a different way and returned to their regular way of life. Peter, speaking for the group, chooses to follow Jesus. He knows that there is only one choice.
How do we take these readings and use them to look at what is happening in our world, church, and country right now? It goes way beyond what each individual is going to choose. It is time that we as a people make some very clear choices for the common good. How can we begin to think and act as a people of God? How can we live together and move forward as People of God and be Bread of Life for a world that is on the brink of starvation?
I am sick to death about the debate of mask or no mask, vaccination or no vaccination, COVID real or hoax, etc. arguing. There is no conversation, just arguing and waving “my individual right’s flag.” It is time to move to the common good.
In November 2020, Pope Francis wrote an opinion piece for the New York Times. Pope Francis said, “If we are to come out of this crisis less selfish than when we went in, we have to let ourselves be touched by others’ pain…. To come out of this
crisis better, we have to recover the knowledge that as a people we have a
shared destination. The pandemic has reminded us that no one is saved alone.
What ties us to one another is what we commonly call solidarity. Solidarity is
more than acts of generosity, important as they are; it is the call to embrace the
reality that we are bound by bonds of reciprocity. On this solid foundation, we
can build a better, different, human future.”
The Pope’s words of encouragement, challenge, and hope echo the words found at the end of the reading from Joshua.
“But the people answered: ’Far be it from us to forsake the LORD for the service of other gods. For it was the LORD, our God, who brought us and our ancestors up out of the land of Egypt, out of a state of slavery. He performed those great miracles before our very eyes and protected us along our entire journey and among the peoples through whom we passed. Therefore, we also will serve the LORD, for he is our God.”
It was not enough for Joshua to say that he and his household would follow the Lord, the people had to decide, how they as a people would move forward.
The readings from Joshua and John today are confronting and challenging. Will we serve the Lord or the gods of our times? Will WE as one people, BE the Bread of Life for others or just be concerned about feeding ourselves?
It is time for us to “fish or cut bait.” It is time for us to break the chain that holds us bound to the myotic and excessively unhealthy notion of individualism and take seriously the MISSION GIVEN TO US TO BE BREAD OF LIFE FOR ALL PEOPLE. It is the only way we will build a better future for all people.
— Sister Teresa Tuite, OP