Twenty-first Sunday in Ordinary Time – B

Jos 24:1-2a, 15-17, 18b; Ps 34:2-3, 16-17, 18-19, 20-21; Eph 5:21-32; Jn 6:60-69

  • Five wise men got lost in the forest. The first one said:– I will go to the left – my intuition tells me that. The second one said:– I will go to the right – because “the right” comes from the word “rightness”. The third one said:– I will go back – we came from there, it means I will go out from the forest. The fourth one said:– I will go straight – we should move forward, the forest will end and something new will open. The fifth said:– You are all wrong. There is a better solution. Wait for me. He found the tallest tree and climbed up. While he was climbing everyone else scattered towards their own sides. From above he saw where they should go to leave the forest faster. Now he could even see in what order the other wise men would reach the end of the forest. He climbed higher and saw the shortest way. He understood the problem and found the best solution! He knew that he did everything right. And the others were wrong. They were stubborn and they didn’t listen to him. He was the real Wise Man! But he was wrong. Everyone was right. The one who went to the left, found himself in the thicket. He had to starve and fight with wild animals. But he learned how to survive in the forest; he became a part of the forest and could teach others the same.’ The one, who went to the right, met thieves. They took everything from him and made him steal with them. But after some time, he had woken up something in those thieves that they had forgotten – compassion. The remorse was so strong in some of them, that after his death they also became the wise men. The one, who went back, made a pathway through the forest, which soon became a road for those who wanted to walk in the forest without being afraid of getting lost. The one, who went straight, became a pioneer. He visited the places where no one else was and opened wonderful new possibilities for people, amazing healing plants and magnificent animals. The one, who climbed into the tree, became a specialist of finding shortcuts. People turned to him when they wanted to find the fastest way to deal with their problems, even if it didn’t lead to any development. This is how the five wise men reached their destiny.
  • A young man phoned a card shop and enquired, “Do you remember my wedding cards I ordered last week?” The designer said, “Yes” The youth continued, “Well, could I make some small changes?” The designer replied, “Go ahead, and give me the new details.” The youth said, “Okay, It’s a different date, a different church and a different woman.”
  • A young woman complained to a saleswoman that she was unhappy with the colourful dress she had purchased. “My boyfriend doesn’t like it” she lamented. The saleswoman allowed her to exchange the dress. Days later she returned and bought the same dress. “What happened? Has your boyfriend changed his mind?” asked the saleswoman. “No” replied the woman, “I’ve changed my boyfriend!”

Taking decisions and being single-mindedly devoted to someone is being increasingly regarded as an almost impossible task. Yet, today’s three Readings call for choice, and for the commitment to bring that choice to full bloom.

I wonder how many decisions we make every day. I believe it’s probably hundreds. We decide whether or not to get out of bed, what we’ll eat, what we’ll do, what we’ll think about, what we’ll say…and on and on.

While it may seem like many of our daily choices are not that significant, it’s important to understand that they do matter.

In Deuteronomy 30:19 God says, “…I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses; therefore choose life, that you and your descendants may live.” Every choice is a seed you sow, and those seeds produce fruit in your life – either for life or for death. And if we want to have the life Jesus died to give us – an abundant life full of real peace and joy – we need to make wise choices.

First Reading: Jos 24, 1-2A,15-17.18B

In the first reading we see God’s people have just entered the Promised Land. The people already living there have their own gods, gods who will seem very attractive to the Israelites. Joshua has called together the elders, leaders, judges and scribes of Israel and presents them with a choice: either they can continue to serve the God who brought them out of Egypt and through the desert to the land where they are now settled; or they can adopt the gods of the Amorites whose land they have conquered for themselves. The people make a clear choice for Yahweh and endorse the covenants that have been made in the past by Moses and their ancestors. In fact, however, they will not always be faithful to this promise and will fall away many times. In that, they were not so unlike us.

Second Reading: Eph 5, 21-32

Faith is not given. It is not simply a set of ideas to be held on to. It is a living relationship with a Person and his vision of life. It is a relationship that needs to grow and be deepened with the years. It is a relationship that has constantly to be re-appraised in a constantly changing world.

We have a good example in today’s Second Reading. The parallel between the relationship of a husband and wife and that of the Church and Jesus its Lord is full of meaning. Perhaps we have problems with the wife having to submit to her husband “in everything”. But it is a submission of love not of inferiority and the same is required of husbands, who are to “love their wives just as Christ loved the Church and sacrificed himself for her to make her holy”.

Husbands are to love their wives “as they love their own bodies”. They are to give at least the same level of care to their partner as they would to themselves. This clearly involves a mutual bonding of deep intensity and commitment which leaves little room for domination or exploitation by either partner.

Gospel: Jn 6, 60-69

Jesus’ disciples are being presented with a crucial choice.

Flesh and Blood: There is then an ironic twist in what follows, when Jesus says: “It is the spirit that gives life; the flesh has nothing to offer.” The words of Jesus are spirit, they are life-bearing. To hear what he says about his “flesh” and “blood” literally is to hear with ears of flesh. It is only when we hear Jesus’ words in the spirit, that they take on their real meaning, that they become, so to speak, flesh and blood. And, in their real meaning, they make radical demands.

Only with a deep, unconditional trust in Jesus will we have that deeper insight into the real meaning of Jesus’ words. It requires an absolutely open mind ready to receive what is there, not what we put there. And this is a gift of God: “For this reason I have told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted by the Father.” As if to prove the truth of Jesus’ words the Gospel comments sadly: “Because of this many of his disciples turned back and no longer went about with him.” Those words “turned back” are very sad. The word “con-version” means a turning towards [God]; this is an “a-version”, a turning away, even worse, a turning back to their old blindness. This happens to many and it could happen to any of us. It happened to Judas, to the disciples in today’s Gospel and it almost happened to Peter.

Will you also go away?: It is then that Jesus turns to the inner circle of the Twelve. Is there anxiety in Jesus’ question or is it a challenge? “Do you also wish to go away [from me]?” Peter, speaking for all, says: “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and to know that you are the Holy One of God.”

“Lord, to whom shall we go?” Perhaps we too will feel like leaving Jesus, leaving his Church. We may some experience serious doubts about our faith. Perhaps we have had that experience already. It can be very painful and disconcerting. There are many reasons why this can happen:
• poorly instructed in the Christian faith so that we go around with a distorted understanding of the Gospel message
• negative witness, scandalising behaviour from other Christians – be they priests or lay people.
• conflicts with other Catholics or Christians
• the powerful attraction of a seductive world which is not compatible with the Christian vision.
• a serious and conscientious choice of another life vision, joining another Christian or non-Christian faith. (Courtesy Rev. Fr. Marcel Barla, Capuchin – A scripture student in Rome)

Sometimes people make unwise choices which aren’t momentous in themselves, but they lead to tragedies: A teenager chooses to ride with a friend who has been drinking, resulting in a serious accident and the loss of life. A girl decides to have a drink at a party, resulting in her letting down her inhibitions. She ends up pregnant or with a venereal disease. Since seemingly small decisions can have such momentous consequences, how can we protect ourselves from making wrong choices? The story of Lot’s choice (Gen. 13:5-18) teaches a crucial lesson about life’s choices:

How to Make Wise Choices – The Bible Way

1. Fear the Lord
2. Pray for Guidance
3. Quiet Yourself to Hear God’s Voice
4. Know Your Priorities
5. Seek Wise and Godly Counsel
6. Measure Your Decisions Against the Bible
7. Make Decisions by Faith
8. Discern When and How to Act
9. Obey God and Trust God Completely
10. Learn from Experiences – Yours and Others

Since choices often result in eternally significant consequences, we must choose in line with God’s principle:

What is God’s Principle: Relationships over rights; godliness over greed; fellowship with God over the world’s approval; and, faith in God’s promises over immediate pleasure from the world. Because if you have God and his promises, you have everything. So seek him first, and all else is yours.

Fr. Gaspar Fernandes, OFM Cap.

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