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Jesus’ word is eternal life

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  • August 13, 2015

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

The people of God had finally entered the Promised Land. Their 40 years of wandering in the wilderness was over and the dream of a new home had been fulfilled. Joshua, the successor to Moses, was growing old and not long for the Earth, so he gathered Israel together for a renewal of the covenant with God. He reminded them of all that God had done for them, and exhorted them to choose whom they wanted to serve.

There were all kinds of temptations and enticements to other forms of worship — the gods of the people of the land — but Israel’s God demanded exclusive and total allegiance. Joshua wanted them to make a conscious choice, rather than merely drifting along without direction or purpose. He also demanded that they be faithful to that choice, and in the previous chapter, he made it clear that their peaceful and prosperous existence in the new land depended on it. Joshua seemed aware that many would choose the crooked path, and his declaration is just as valid for us as it was then: “As for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.”

Do not waste a lot of time and energy getting worked up over what others are doing. Tend to your own self and household — everyone has to make their own choices. Often they are not consciously or reflectively made — people simply drift — but cumulative choices determine what kind of person we become and the quality of life that we lead. Often this has little to do with whether one is explicitly religious. The people in this story were filled with enthusiasm. Remembering all that God had done for them, they swore that they would serve God alone. Alas, it was not to be.

The Bible in its entirety paints a depressing picture of infidelity, sin and injustice. Fidelity to God is more than lip-service — it must go hand in hand with justice, mercy and compassionate action. Whenever the people of God wandered too far for too long from God, disaster usually overtook them. Living in opposition to God usually comes with built-in consequences. But disaster was always followed by repentance, renewal, forgiveness and a fresh beginning. This is the pattern of human history, and often of our individual lives.

A similar pattern is described in Ephesians in the form of kindness, forgiveness and tender-hearted behaviour. This is nothing less than imitation of Christ and of God the Father and is the life to which all believers are called — it is not optional. We forget this call at our own peril.

Some examples given in Ephesians we may find a bit disturbing. Subjection or domination of spouses is not a value that we should hold. It is interesting that the lectionary omitted passages that called for slaves to obey their masters. We recoil (or should) at the thought of any form of slavery. Values change, and so does our spiritual awareness and moral sensitivity. Just the same, the marital image presented here offers us something important — a mutual respect and tenderness that is often lacking in relationships.

Jesus used stark, hard and shocking words, and many of His followers didn’t like it. On the surface, eating the flesh of the Son of Man and drinking His blood is shocking. That is the point of the story — Jesus countered their complaints with the observation that the flesh is useless and only the spirit gives life.

The words that He had given them were spirit and life — but they must be understood in a spiritual manner. Their stumbling block was their literal, physical and Earth-bound understanding of His words. Jesus assured them that even greater things were in store for them: The Son of Man would return to the Father after the completion of His mission. He observed that only those whose hearts and minds were open to God were granted the grace of faith.

Words and symbols can be either a closed door or a door to another reality, depending on our disposition. Jesus asked Peter if he was going to bail on Him too. Peter was puzzled — he still didn’t understand everything — but he did know that the words of Jesus were eternal life. The rest he would understand while on the journey, and so will we.

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