We are all called to serve

  • August 8, 2012

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

Bob Dylan’s song “Gotta Serve Somebody” would have made perfect sense in the context of Joshua’s meeting with the Israelites. They had weathered the 40 years in the desert and had just entered the Promised Land to begin their permanent sojourn. Joshua first called for a commitment on the part of the Israelites to serve the God who had brought them out of Egypt, sustained them in the desert and given them the land they were entering. He gave them a choice: serve one of the many pagan gods you will find here or the God who brought you here. Choose — and don’t say that you will serve the Lord unless you intend to do so.

The people declared enthusiastically that they would serve the Lord but their subsequent history bore sad witness to their infidelity and frequent lapses into idolatry. Joshua made no move to control them but just affirmed that he and his entire household would serve the Lord. He left them free to serve whomever they chose.

We all serve somebody, even if it is just our own ego. We make the choice every day when we are put in situations in which our principles and ideals are challenged. Many choose country, corporation, culture, different ideologies or charismatic leaders and demagogues. Some allow themselves to be led by anyone but even that is a choice. We are absolutely free but our lives will be measured in the balance by the choices we have made. We live in an age in which many have chosen to serve a variety of “gods” and many more no God at all. We should respect their choice and make the same resolution that Joshua did: I choose, along with others of like mind and heart, to serve the living God.

There is much to praise in the reading from Ephesians. The exhortation to love one another, to be tender-hearted and forgiving and to imitate God is every bit as important today, perhaps even more so. This is a way of life that never grows old and is valid in every time and place. It should be lived out in the family, at work, in the public sphere and in interpersonal relationships, and our failure to do so is responsible for much of the world’s troubles.

At the same time, the passage also reflects a bit of the cultural values of the age in which it was written. While it is important for husbands and wives to love and cherish each other, we would not hold up “subjection” as an appropriate expression of this love. Christ does not subject any person to another. We should only be subject to God.

As we have seen the last few Sundays, the teachings of Jesus concerning His body and blood were extremely difficult for many of His followers to accept. Jesus did not back down or waver, saying in effect that they hadn’t seen anything yet! He was actually going to return to His place of origin — God the Father. More shock language followed: the flesh is useless; only the spirit gives life. He was not denigrating the body or the created order but only insisting on the inability of humanity to reach or experience God without something added from the realm of the spirit.

The words spoken by Jesus are spirit and life — not the literal words but the message contained in them. These words spoke of the need for faith in Him and for reception of the gift of God’s life-giving spirit. Many of His followers chose to bail at this point — they were confused and angry. Jesus asked Peter and those closest to Him rather wearily if they were going to disappear too. Peter was a bit perplexed — he probably didn’t really understand everything that Jesus had said, but he was convinced that Jesus alone held the keys to a transcendent life with God. They knew that Jesus was the bearer of the light from God. Peter speaks for many in that he did not fully understand everything and had many questions.

It is in being faithful to the path and to the Lord that truth unfolds, hearts are transformed and minds enlightened.