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God's Word on Sunday: Being faithful requires daily commitment

  • August 15, 2021

21st Sunday in Ordinary Time, Aug. 22 (Year B) Joshua 24:1-2a, 15-17,18b; Psalm 34; Ephesians 4:32-5:1-2, 21-32; John 6:53, 60-69

Each day, billions of people on this planet make choices. Some of them are quite mundane — what to have for dinner or what to wear. For far too many, these are not choices — it is a matter of having something, anything, to eat or wear.

But there are far more serious choices that confront us all. We decide whether to tell the truth or be dishonest; to be generous or selfish; positive or negative; kind or unloving. Often these choices are not obvious and we might not be aware that we are even making them. So many human words and deeds are done without awareness or reflection.

In its original context, Joshua presented the Israelites with a fundamental choice before they entered the promised land. He called on them to serve faithfully the God who had rescued them from bondage and protected them during their long journey.

They were entering the territory of the people of Canaan, whose gods would tempt the Israelites. Joshua was aware that he could not control fickle human hearts. They were free to serve these gods, but would have to experience the negative consequences of their choices. He declared that regardless of what other people decided, he and his household would serve the Lord.

Each day we are challenged in many ways, some small and others large, to decide whom we will serve.

We cannot force others to accept our faith or see things our way, but we can commit ourselves to serving our God faithfully.

Filled with fervor, the assembled Israelites declared with one voice that they would serve the Lord and would have nothing to do with other gods. For a while, all went well, but as time passed, so did the fervor and commitment of many. So it is with humanity, and for that reason, being faithful to the Lord requires daily renewal and commitment.

Ephesians gives us a glimpse of what some of those positive choices might be.

The faithful are exhorted to be kind, tender-hearted and forgiving. But the bar is raised even higher: they are to imitate God, and since God is love, they must live in love, just as Jesus did.

The letter goes on to apply some of these principles to the running of a community and household. The faithful are urged to be subject to one another out of reverence for Christ.

We rightly have serious questions today about the hierarchical and male-centred nature of the family and community portrayed in the letter. But reading the letter carefully, we can also note the strong insistence on mutuality and the Christ-centred nature of human relationships.

We have heard these words of Jesus too many times, so their shock value has worn off. The crowd around Jesus was horrified — understandably so — at His insistence that they must eat His flesh and drink His blood in order to have life.

In John’s Gospel, Jesus often uses shock language, symbols and metaphors to express higher spiritual realities. In order to have life, believers must be fed and nourished by Jesus, and they must become what He is.

This is where the first defections occurred. Those who were put off by the words and made no effort to penetrate their inner meaning walked away. Jesus assured them they hadn’t seen anything yet — the Son of Man would ascend to where He was before, with the Father.

He also knew that not everyone would respond. Faith was a calling and gift from God and for many reasons could be refused. Jesus then asked if the apostles would leave Him too.

Peter was perplexed, for he didn’t really understand the words of Jesus either. But he knew one thing: Jesus had the words of eternal life and was the holy one of God. And if this were true, to whom else could he and the others possibly go?

So, Peter would continue, knowing that in the course of time and experience he would come to a deeper understanding and more would be revealed to him. Likewise, our own faith does not mean that we have answered all the questions, but that in our hearts we are sure we are on the right path and we are open to whatever may come.

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