21ST SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME YEAR B ON AUGUST 22, 2021 (R. 1: Joshua 24: 1- 2a, 15- 17, 18b; Psalm 34: 2- 3, 16- 21; R. 2: Ephesians 5: 21- 32; Gospel: John 6: 60- 69)
– REV FR EMMANUEL INEDU OCHIGBO
It is another busy Monday morning a young man sees an older lady throwing her cane (walking-stick) in the air at an intersection (junction). After watching her do this several times, he goes closer and asks her, “Madam, why are you tossing the stick up like that?” “I am trying to decide which road (route) to take,” she answers as she continues to toss the stick. “How many times do you need to throw the stick to decide?” The woman stops, turns to the young man, and says, “Until it points the way I want to go.”
The gift of freewill is one great privilege we enjoy from God and it comes with responsibility. The readings of today remind us of this gift and they challenge us to use this gift wisely. In the first reading, Joshua who took over the mantle of leadership from Moses now reminds the Israelites of their gift of freewill. After forty years of journeying through the wilderness, the Israelites finally arrive the Promised Land of Canaan. Instead of simply dismissing the people to go on building their houses and settling down, Joshua challenges them to examine themselves and make up their minds regarding whom they will serve. This was necessary as any new step we take in life requires a reexamination of ourselves based on the original “Yes” that we said to God. At Sinai, they said, “Yes” to God through the Covenant they made with God. At Canaan, they have more options. Apart from the God of Abraham, they found other people with their gods in the Promised Land; the Israelites also had their ancient divinities, the gods their ancestors worshipped before they came to know the God of Abraham.
In the Gospel passage, prior to this time, things seemed to be going on well for Jesus as the number of his followers was growing. It was easy to follow him when they saw him change water to wine. That he could challenge the temple leadership won him the street folks who were tired of paying taxes and spending all their earnings on endless temple sacrifices. And most recently, he gave them free food when he miraculously fed over 5,000 people. He was a force to reckon with. However, when he began to get into the heart of his message, when things got more intimate, when he offered his flesh as “Bread of Life”, and his Blood as drink for them, many could not take it. At the end of the day, he lost the majority of his followers, leaving behind a handful of them. Turning over to the twelve, he reminded them of their freedom and that the choice was theirs to make, but Peter spoke on their behalf, “Master, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and are convinced that you are the Holy One of God.”
Consider how easy it was for them to follow Jesus when things went their way, but how difficult it was when things became different. It is said that “When the going gets tough, only the tough get going.” Another saying has it that “When things are going on well for us, our friends know us, but when things go wrong for us, we know our friends.”
Unfortunately, Many Catholics still exhibit what my bishop, Most Rev Anthony Ademu Adaji, MSP, of Idah Diocese refers to as a “buffet” attitude to the Catholic faith; choosing only those aspects of the Bible and Church’s teachings that are in line with their comfort zones, and rejecting any aspect that is a Challenge. From Joshua and Jesus (Both names with same meaning), we are challenged today, “No sitting on the fence”, and no room for “political correctness.” If we have chosen to follow Jesus as Catholics, then it must show in how we do business, how we study, how we marry (cf. today’s second reading), how we give birth and raise children, how we die, how grieve and in all our relationships.
Every new step we take in life requires a reexamination of ourselves based on our original “yes” to God. According to Pope Benedict XVI, The world offers you comfort. But you were not made for comfort, you were made for greatness.