While thinking about today’s readings, I tried to find a common thread through all of them and it struck me that each, in its own way, entails a choice presented to the people of God.
In the First Reading, Joshua tells his people that he and his household have chosen to serve the Lord and that they themselves needed to choose whom to serve if it was not the Lord. But, as they explained to Joshua, they also chose to serve God, and it was because he brought them out of Egypt and freed them from slavery.
The question is just as relevant today when many choices are clearly before us. When there are so many potential masters enticing us, whom do we choose to serve? And if we choose to serve God, is it dependent on whether he has also done great things for us?
Paul’s letter to the Ephesians is a sort of prescription about behavior. His directions present us with choices about how to behave and who to take as our role models. Do we choose forgiveness and love, as our Father and Jesus have modelled, or some other path? Granted the middle section of this reading is problematic, at least to me and, I would wager, to many of you. What are we to make of Paul’s directions to husbands and wives? They seem so inappropriate. Richard Rohr, the American Franciscan teacher and author, says that when the readings present us with a paradox or something that doesn’t fit with our world and how we see it, we are meant to struggle with it, hold on to the tension it creates. There is usually a meaning that is not immediately apparent and we have to re-frame our thinking. We are not meant to just blindly accept the words just because they appear in the Bible. He says it is OK and in fact intended that we struggle to find the hidden relevance.
So, while I can’t explain these sections and of course still struggle with them, what did occur to me was that maybe Paul was reminding spouses not to take each other for granted, to give each other the love and respect they are due, and to live up to our responsibilities. Perhaps his letter was worded in a way appropriate for the time in which he wrote it. It may even have been shocking for the Ephesians but in a different way than it is for us.
As for the Gospel, this Sunday is the last of five Sunday’s of the Gospel of John, which has interrupted our hearing of the Gospel according to Mark that preceded these weeks, and that will pick up again next week-end. The particular focus of the sections of John’s Gospel that we have been listening to these weeks has been the Eucharist. We started with the miracle of the loaves and fishes five weeks ago, moving through the following Sundays when Jesus sensitizes the apostles to his core message – that he is the true bread of life.
Today, Jesus lays it on the line – “unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man, you have no life in you”. Jesus then asks the disciples if they wish to turn away like the others who could not accept this teaching. And Peter’s answer is so honest, humble and bare of any pretext – “Lord, to whom would we go? You have the words of eternal life.” We choose you.
Peter’s words brought to my mind that pivotal day 17 years ago – September 11, 2001. We were all so confused and frightened and wondering what was happening in our world when the planes crashed into the twin towers. My children were 17, 15 and 11. My husband and I didn’t know what to tell them but I felt this overwhelming need to go to church. And when I voiced this, there were no objections or complaints, on a weekday school night, even from two teenagers and a preteen. We all felt I think – where else are we to go? To whom else can we turn? We needed to go somewhere and that’s the only place that seemed right – to be comforted by Jesus, hear his words of eternal life and share bread at his table.
Bless his heart, our pastor understood why the church was much fuller than usual that weekday evening. His own confusion echoed ours and yet he helped everyone feel a little better. I am sure God was working overtime that day guiding all the world’s clergy because Father Dan helped us all although I don’t remember a thing he said. Where else to go indeed. To the house of the Lord, to his banquet table, to receive his sustenance.
So why have we had a sustained focus on the Eucharist this summer? I don’t pretend to know the reason why this Gospel was placed where and when it was. I am sure there is some liturgical reason. But maybe in summer when many other activities and preoccupations are on hiatus and people are taking holidays, we might be more receptive and inclined to notice the emphasis. Because it is clear that this is important.
What is it that happens to us when we approach the banquet table? And thankfully we all can here at St. Joe’s. The only requirement is your own desire. There are no worthiness tests. Just a humble need to be fed; nourished. It’s kind of like a come-as-you-are meal where we come to God reflecting who we really are right here, right now.
In the Eucharist, we take Jesus into our inner most selves. And you know what they say, you are what you eat. We do it together in a community. We have been prepared, having a period of silence before the start of Mass, by hearing God’s word, by offering our prayers and gifts, by listening to and participating in Jamie and the choir’s beautiful music and hymns.
Then it is up to us. Thankfully God takes delight in the flawed creatures we are because despite my best intentions, I am not always present to the mystery that is the Eucharist, having too many things going on in my head as distractions. I try to remember Richard Rohr’s teaching when he says, “If you are not present to the Presence, there is no presence”. So, let us all bring our best selves fully to the Table, digest this living bread and wine and draw on it for strength when we are faced with all the inevitable choices we will be called to make this week.