Twenty-First Sunday in Ordinary Time

Dominica XXI per Annum B

26 August 2018

This Sunday concludes our five-week period of listening to Jesus’ teaching that his flesh is true food and his blood is true drink. In the gospel even disciples of Jesus – people who had already begun following the Lord – begin to argue with him and to leave him over the literal meaning of this teaching, this gift. The Twelve Apostles are asked to make a tough and definitive choice: either leave Jesus and return to their former lives, or accept the literal meaning of his teaching and enter the covenant he offers in his flesh and blood. This choice is prefigured by the first reading, when Joshua told God’s people they must choose: either forsake their sin and choose God’s ways, or become enslaved to the pagan gods of the nations around them. In other words, God’s people could no longer ride the fence. If they were to receive the blessings of the Promised Land, Joshua announces to them that they must definitively choose to accept God’s covenant, ratifying it by the way they lived, being marked by it in the flesh, or they must accept the consequences of following alien gods.

In the gospel, Jesus is asking the same choice from his apostles. And listening to this gospel we know Jesus is asking the same choice from us. Having listened to Jesus’ clear teaching in John 6, we must either accept that the bread and wine in fact become Jesus’ Body and Blood, requiring us to choose to live in communion with the teaching of Christ and his Bride the Church, or go our separate ways and return to our former way of life. Once we have been fully initiated into the New Covenant of Christ by Baptism, Confirmation, and reception of the Holy Eucharist, thus being marked as belonging to God, we, like the people of the Old Covenant, must live by God’s laws or face the consequence of having no lasting life within us.

Today, the selection of God’s Word tells us we must get off the fence. In fact, inheriting the Promised Land of heaven will not come as the result of fence riding. We are asked to confirm God’s covenant and to live according to His ways. We must decide whom we will serve, whom we will follow. The Israelites were faced with a tough decision. Jesus’ disciples have a tough choice to make. How often in our living of our faith, in being disciples, do we feel such tough choices?  When was the last time that following Jesus meant you had to clearly turn away from another way of life, from other choices, things which people around you do and which they say is okay?  Does it sound strange in our ears that following God would require a tough choice to ratify the covenant with him and to forsake ways that are contrary to God’s teaching?  It shouldn’t sound strange if we follow the Scriptures. In fact, what would be strange would be to go through life as a disciple never feeling the pinch of a tough choice to choose God over worldly ways. After all, Jesus himself teaches: “If any man would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.”  Actually, when it comes down to it, if following Christ doesn’t find us struggling with real conversion and change, then – I’ll just say it – we really aren’t following Christ at all. In such case, following Christ has become little more than being a member of a social organization, or a club, where we show up for our regular meetings.

You see, God’s gift of the Promised Land to the people of Israel was a prefigurement of His greatest offer of blessing and life in an eternal communion with Him that never ends. And the choice faced by the Israelites in the first reading, like the choice faced by the apostles in the gospel, is a choice we, too, must make if our living for Christ is to be real and if it is to arrive at God’s offer of an eternity of blessing in heavenly life. We must make a clear choice for Christ and his teaching. In John 6 Jesus tells us he gives his entire life to us. Will we choose to be with him?  Wherever we think our own conclusions have more authority than that of Christ and his Church, we are like the disciples in the gospel who murmur against the Lord: “This saying is hard; who can accept it?”  When our moral choices fly in the face of Christ’s teaching and the consistent witness of the Church, we are not choosing life with the Lord. When we won’t acknowledge our sins and receive the healing of confession, we are straddling the fence and even returning to godless ways.

But this isn’t what Jesus wants for us. He calls us to himself and he asks us to choose life with him. Jesus says, “No one can come to me unless it is granted him by my Father.”  However we murmur, however we choose paths that are not godly, however we sin we should make it our prayer that the Father will grant us the grace to get off the fence and come to true life. We should pray for the grace of conversion and more authentic living of our life with Christ so that, with the apostles, we can say: “Master, to whom shall we go?”  You see, the Good News is that, if we will clearly and seriously follow his commands, Jesus offers us unimaginable blessing that begins even now in a real communion with his Body and Blood. It’s time to hop off the fence!