Dear Friends in Jesus Christ…,
This is the fifth and last Sunday that we continue our reflection on Jesus the Bread of Life. On this final day we are challenged. The challenge is to accept Jesus or not accept Jesus. We have to make a decision. The fundamental choice we make determines how we live our lives, deciding whom we will serve. In our first reading, Joshua challenges the Israelites who have entered the Promised Land to make a choice. He challenges the people to reaffirm their Covenant relationship with Yahweh. By that time the Promised Land had been divided up among the tribes of Israel. But a big concern is whether the tribes will remain faithful to the Lord God or drift away from their worship of and obedience to the God of Israel. So before departing from them in death, Joshua gathers the tribal leaders around him to issue his last words of advice. They gather at Shechem, 40 miles north of Jerusalem, where God had first appeared to Abraham and promised to make his descendants a great nation.It was a fitting place for the renewal of the Covenant. Joshua reminds the people of what God has done for them in rescuing them from slavery in Egypt, providing for their survival in the desert and giving them victory over their enemies. God has been their Deliverer, Provider and Protector. Joshua’s challenge to the Israelites is to decide, then and there, whom they will serve, the gods of their fathers, the gods of the Amorites among whom they now live, or this God Who has done so much for them. They have to decide for the God of Israel or to reject Him in favor of the idols of their fathers and neighbors. Their decision for God should be reflected in their fidelity to the terms of the Covenant, i.e. the Law. Then Joshua sets the example for the rest of Israelites: “As for me and my household, we will serve the LORD.” Joshua’s challenge prefigures the choice the apostles must make in today’s Gospel. We, too, are asked today whether or not we choose to remain in discipleship to Jesus. The Renewal of Covenant ceremony in Joshua chapter 24 reminds us that the Eucharist is a Covenant meal that calls for a decision of Faith. In the Gospel we have very dramatic situation. People find it very hard to believe Jesus’ teaching and they say “This teaching is difficult. Who can accept it?” Many of them left Jesus. Jesus asked his disciples “Do you want to leave me, too?” Peter’s response, “Master, to whom we shall go? You have the words of eternal life,” reflects the Faith-filled, free and whole-hearted decision of the early Christian community to follow Jesus and his teaching. While giving Holy Communion, the priest says, “The Body of Christ” and we respond with a total, “Amen” or “Yes!” That “Yes!” is not just an act of Faith in the Real Presence but a total commitment of myself to Jesus in the community of which I am a member.
The Old Testament, the New Testament and the history of the Church tell the stories of brave men and women who heroically exercised their freedom of choice for God and His Commandments and so courted martyrdom. II Maccabees 6:18-31 describes how the 90-year-old saintly scribe, Eleazar, welcomed martyrdom rather than eat the flesh of a pig. The same book describes another heroic Jewish mother and her seven brave children who lost their lives by resisting the order of the Greek commander to reject their Jewish Faith. The martyrdom of St. Stephen is described in the Acts of the Apostles. The first three centuries saw thousands of Christians heroically choosing Christ and courting the cruel death inflicted by the pagan Roman Empire. St. Thomas More was the second-in-power in England and St. John Fisher the Vice-Chancellor of Cambridge University. Both were executed by King Henry VIII for choosing the teaching of the Church on marriage and divorce instead of choosing their king’s view. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a German theologian and pastor, chose to resist the anti-Christian and non-ethical doctrines of Hitler and was executed at 39. Today’s readings challenge us to make a choice for God and His teachings or against God.
We Christians have accepted the challenge of following the way of Christ and making choices for Christ, fortified by the Bread he gives and relying on the power of the Holy Spirit. The Heavenly Bread and the Holy Spirit will give us the courage of our Christian convictions to accept the Church’s teachings and to face ridicule, criticisms and even social isolation for our adherence to sound Christian principles in our lives. We must accept him totally, without any conditions or reservations. Christ’s thoughts and attitudes, his values, his life-view must become totally ours, and must govern and shape our lives. Above all, we are to identify with him in the offering of his Flesh and the pouring out of his Blood on the cross, the symbol of God’s unutterable love for us.
God Bless You,