Twenty-first Sunday in Ordinary Time (22nd August 2021)

Readings: Josh 24:1-2.15-18; Eph 5:21-32; Jn 6:60-69

Today I see the first reading and the gospel as being about faith, as fundamental acceptance and commitment. In both, it is put up to us to decide, to make a conscious choice.

We might see Joshua as a good psychologist in the way he puts the question. He tries to make it easy for them. (One is tempted to think Jesus doesn’t!) Joshua reminds the people what the Lord has been for them, and done for them. They have tried their God, in both senses, and drifted away under pressure. 

Now they are asked to make a conscious choice, forced to name their god. It is probably safe to say that everyone has a god, but we may not always be consciously aware, at any given moment, who or what our god is. Faced with stark choice, the people are unlikely to choose one of the ‘available’, known gods over the God of their forebears,who has proven his care for them and his power. Despite their enthusiastic verbal commitment, however, they will fail again and again.

Having heard a homily at a recent RTE Sunday Mass, I had a strong fellow feeling with Jesus’ hearers in the gospel. I found myself saying exactly: ‘This is intolerable language. How could anyone accept it?’ The homily interpreted Jesus’ words very literally, suggesting a real physical presence, so that the host is actually the body of Jesus. Rather lurid anecdotes supported a very questionable theology of Eucharist. Jesus’ hearers interpreted his challenging words in this way so their reaction is understandable.

Rather than explain what he meant, Jesus lifts the question to a different level. Instead of dealing with the question of the nature of the bread the Father will give or the mode of his presence, the real question becomes: ‘Can they accept him,  believe in him, trust him?’ Can they accept that his words are Spirit and always they are life? Many can’t. In spite of Peter’s assurance, he too will fail under pressure.

‘Faith’ has little or nothing to do with accepting explanations of, for example, how Jesus is present in the Eucharist, and everything to do with fundamental acceptance, trust in him and commitment to him as a Person. We may say the Creed but belief in God is not just an acknowledgement that there is a Divine Mystery – ‘God’ exists – but acceptance of the consequences and  firm trust in that ‘God’. Strong faith is a trust that will not be shaken in the very worst of times, and will not be forgotten in the very best of times.

Sr. Genevieve Mooney OP 

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