Make the Lord your choice

  • August 26, 2009
21st Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year B) Aug. 23 (Joshua 24:1-2, 15-17, 18; Psalm 34; Ephesians 4:32-5:2, 21-32; John 6:53, 60-69)

At some point everyone makes a fundamental decision that colours the quality and value of their entire life. They decide whom or what they will serve. We might protest that we are independent and serve no one, but in fact we are all caught in a web of social, personal and economic relationships that demand various degrees of commitment.

But we can make choices: we can serve humanity, the common good, our family and friends, even some cause or ideology, and there is nothing wrong with that. But often the decision is a subtle (or not so subtle) decision to serve self-interests. Ironically, this orientation towards self often exists among those who consider themselves quite religious. And serving self is the source of much of the world’s pain and misery.

The best choice we can make is to serve God in a meaningful way, not just with lip service or fanaticism. Joshua is about to lead the Israelites into the Promised Land. They have not been faithful to God during the journey through the wilderness, nor will they be faithful in the future — in other words, we have a lot in common with them. But he commands them to make a deliberate choice of whom they will serve. If they want the pagan gods of the surrounding peoples, so be it. But choose, and choose now. Joshua cannot and will not make that choice for others: “As for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.”

We cannot make choices for others, but that does not keep us from trying. It is useless to fume and rant because others will not share our beliefs or opinions. We can only choose consciously each day whom we will serve — or to put it another way, choose our highest ideal. Our life is measured by our highest ideals even if we fall short in living up to them. It is the desire of our mind and heart that is important — and there is no higher desire than to love and serve God and humanity.

Love is more than something that is “nice” to do — it is imitation of God and a way of manifesting God in the world. It’s actually quite an incredible power that we have. We can choose to reveal God to others through our way of life and the quality of our love or we can also choose to deny that revelation of God by closing our hearts. Being kind, loving and forgiving is the sacrifice or offering that is always pleasing to God. This sort of “living in love” has little to do with the verses in Ephesians that command wives to submit to their husbands or slaves to obey their masters. These are cultural values that reflect the first-century Greco-Roman world rather than the Sermon on the Mount. “Living in love” also means living in equality and justice.

Jesus has just finished His “bread of life” discourse and the reviews range from lukewarm to total rejection. There is a current of puzzlement, anger and disgust in the group of followers and it is at this point that many begin to bail out. Jesus issues a provocative challenge not to believe just on the basis of His words but on the evidence in the form of His resurrection from the dead and return to God the Father. The message that He has brought from the Father provides spirit and life so the challenge is to “taste and see.”

Jesus poses a poignant question to Peter: Are you going to bail out too? Peter is indeed puzzled — he doesn’t understand the teaching completely and probably doesn’t fully comprehend who Jesus is, only that He is the “Holy One of God” — God’s emissary. He recognizes that the teachings of Jesus are unique and give life. Despite the challenges and difficulties of understanding the path there is really no other option.

We are very much like Peter — we would like some answers, we wish things were clearer and we find the path difficult. We may be tempted to walk away like some of the followers in the story. But like Peter we can make a choice: to follow Jesus wherever He leads, confident that we will grow in illumination and understanding during the journey.

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