HOMILY OF THE 21ST SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME YEAR B
THEME: A CALL TO HOLINESS
BY: Rev Fr Stephen ‘Dayo Osinkoya
HOMILY: Joshua 24:1-2a. 15-17. 18b
The gospel passage of today presents us with a mixed sense of reaction from those who were following Jesus based on his saying “Whoever eats me will also draw life from me.” So some disciples have found the saying very hard to accept. They say, “This is intolerable language. How could anyone accept it?” (vs 60). As a consequence, “many of his disciples left him and stopped going with him” (vs 66).
On the other hand, this crisis offers Jesus an opportunity to test the commitment of the closest to him, the Twelve. He asked: “What about you, do you want to go away too?” (vs 67). As a response to this pensive question of Jesus, we have this confession of Peter, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the message of eternal life, and we believe; we have come to know that you are the Holy One of God” (verses 68-69). This response is similar to the one of the Israelites in the first reading of today, when Joshua demanded of them a choice of whom to serve, between the Lord God of their ancestors or the gods of the Amorites, “Far be it from us that we should forsake the LORD, to serve other gods…”
The truth about the Eucharist that Our Lord reveals is not a natural truth that reason can easily grasp (like “Thou shall not kill”), but a supernatural truth that can only be known if it is revealed. So we need the grace of Christ to assent to it. In the case of the faithful apostles who chose to stay, it was from the grace that comes from their personal encounter with Jesus. They trusted Our Lord, so they could believe the words he spoke. In like manner, we too are expected to trust the teachings of the church on issues of faith and moral. And the grace to trust and obey is given to us in the Eucharist.
Many people have left the Church for no other reason than in search for some place where they could get some respite from the seemingly hard teachings of the Church, most especially on marriage. Does the Church teach anything that is different from the teaching of Jesus? (Cf. Matt 19: 3-12) Christ teaches Unity and indissolubility of marriage, which the Church is equally obliged to echo from generation to generation.
To foster this unity and indissolubility, St. Paul in the second reading of today, in his letter to the Ephesians gives us the guiding principle – service! “Brethren: Be subject to one another out of reverence for Christ.” A Christian husband can be tempted to be overbearing and lording it over the wife rather than to serve. But St. Paul makes us to understand that; the husband is to love his wife in the totally sacrificial way that Christ loved his Church. A Christian wife too can be tempted to resent serving her husband. But the wife as St. Paul tells us is to love her husband in the totally submissive way that the Church obeys Christ.
Many seem not to be aware that married life is a call to holiness. They still see the vocation to holiness and the choice of married life as two parallel lines that never meet. But by contrast, St Paul saw the faithful living of family life as a basic way to holiness. The Church links holiness with lovingly embracing our role in this world. Those called to married life should see in their state of life an opportunity to show genuine love as husband, wife, mother or father.
For those who give excuses for their leaving the Church for elsewhere, let us bear in mind that the teaching and the life of Jesus will always challenge us at some level of our being. There may even be times when we will feel like walking away from it. The truth is always very bitter. I have come to know, while growing up, that effective drugs and herbs are not always sweet to taste, often very bitter and difficult to swallow. But when swallowed, their effects are often like magic. What is good for us is good for us whether pleasant to us or not.
Hence, when some of his followers began to walk away, Jesus didn’t run after them and try to patronize them or try to economize the truth as we would say. Rather he turned to those who stayed and challenged them to commit themselves. There are three types of people in every gathering. Those who cause things to happen; those who watch things happening; and those who don’t know what is happening! Peter was the one who stepped up to the occasion. “Lord” he said “You alone have the words of eternal life. We know, and we believe that you are the Christ, the Holy One of God.” For Jesus, losing the others was worth it, if it left him with loyal followers like Peter.
Somewhere, somehow, God put into the deep of our hearts a freedom to accept or reject faith in him. Faith is a gift, and like any gift, it can be accepted or rejected. We can’t manufacture faith in God, but it’s a choice that depends on us, just as it did for Jesus’ disciples – “Do you also want to leave?”
Beloved in Christ, Eucharist is the primary moment when we commit ourselves again to the Lord’s vision for our lives; it is our weekly opportunity to make our own those words of Peter in today’s gospel, ‘Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the message of eternal life.’
It is very easy to see Mass as just something that we have to do, and because of that, it has become even normal for some of us to arrive late for Mass or even leave early before dismissal. We are busy people with lots of things to do and places to go. There are lots of activities and responsibilities to attend to. If there is any aspect of our faith that we are struggling with, I would challenge us to examine that in our life. Mass isn’t something that we do simply because we’re supposed to. It’s an encounter with Jesus, who makes himself vulnerable to us, and it’s our response of friendship back to him. He is inviting us to eternal life.
We say God is eternal. So, communing with God, that is, sharing in the life of God is eternal life. For God, there is no past and future but only the now. And God is here. Therefore, eternal life is here and now in Jesus Christ present in the Eucharist. There is a story told of Swami Vivekananda, an Indian sage and philosopher who lived in the 19th century. Once, when Swami Vivekananda was due to deliver a discourse in a university, an atheist student had gone well before time and had written on the blackboard, “GOD IS NOWHERE.” When Vivekananda came to the hall he saw the sentence. He walked up to the black board as if to begin his talk, he simply separated the words, “NOW” and “HERE” from the word “NOWHERE” and wrote “GOD IS NOW HERE.” He was accorded a thunderous applause from the entire gathering which was thrilled by his wit.
Do we really believe that God is now here? He is here and now! What Chapter 6 of John has brought to our attention is that it is possible to share in eternal life of God, here and now by eating the flesh of Jesus! This is quite straight-forward: when I eat the bread which is the body of Christ it becomes part of me, and I become one with the bread that is Christ. So I become one with God! Yes, Jesus says, “Whoever eats me will also draw life from me” (Jn 6:57).
In Evangelii Gaudium , Pope Francis wrote: “I invite all Christians, everywhere, at this very moment, to a renewed personal encounter with Jesus Christ, or at least an openness to letting him encounter them; I ask all of you to do this unfailingly each day” (EG 3).
This is what we need and. We can encounter Christ in many ways, especially in the Eucharist.
So we pray, “By the mystery of this water and wine, may we come to share in the divinity of Christ, who humbled himself to share in our humanity.”
*Rev Fr Stephen ‘Dayo Osinkoya*