21st Sunday, O T Year B – 2015 Jos.24:1-2a, 15-17, 18b/ Eph.5:21-32/ Jn. 6:60-69
The story is told about three priests who started discussing their common problem of how to get rid of bats in their churches. The first priest said he once took a shotgun and fired at them, but to no avail. The second one said he trapped them alive and released them outside, but they came back.
The third priest said, he no longer had a problem in his church. They asked how he solved it, he said: “I simply baptized them and confirmed them, and I haven’t seen them in the church since then.”
The word “paradox” is a rather strange word to define.
I tried to look for the simplest and clearest and shortest definition, but I think I got into some kind of confusion. So I can only vaguely say that a paradox is a statement which is seemingly absurd, but nonetheless true.
Yet in a way, we also vaguely know what a paradox is, and maybe a few examples may help us understand the paradox of our modern lives.
So what is the paradox of our modern lives? Well, we have taller buildings but shorter tempers; we have wider expressways but narrower viewpoints; we spend more but have less; we buy more but enjoy less.
We have bigger houses but smaller families; we have more conveniences but less time; we have more knowledge but less judgment; we have more medicine but less health. We have conquered outer space but not our inner space; we have done bigger things but not better things.
These are just some examples of the paradox of our modern lives. And we may even come up with some paradoxes of our own. Yet there are times when we come across statements of conflicting truth and we don’t think much about them.
For example, if a person says “I always lie.” Is that person telling the truth, or is that person lying? Or we may have heard parents saying to their little children: Don’t go near the water until you have learned how to swim!
Well, statements of conflicting truths and paradoxes may leave us in confusion and even frustration. But we know what a nonsensical statement or a nonsensical language is. It is a statement or language that has no meaning or just simply absurd.
We will know it when we hear it, and there is no need to give an example. Yet, we heard in the gospel that some of the followers of Jesus were complaining that He used intolerable language. Putting it simply, they were saying that Jesus was talking nonsense, and that He was absurd and ridiculous.
And that was because Jesus said that the bread that He shall give is His flesh for the life of the world. And that anyone who eats His flesh and drinks His blood will have eternal life. It was nonsensical and absurd and ridiculous to them, and it disturbed them to the extent that they left.
And what about us? Can we accept the teachings of Jesus? Don’t we feel disturbed by His teachings? Well, by the fact that we are here for Mass may mean that we believe in the teachings of Jesus.
We say “Amen” when we receive Holy Communion, and we truly believe that we are receiving the Body of Christ. (I know a person who does not say Amen but repeats the words, “Body of Christ”).
Our Christian faith was known as “the Way” before it was known as Christianity. It is a journey on which we are invited, not a system of thought and behavior that we set up for ourselves.
The initiative is God’s, who “first loved us” (1Jn.4:19). As Leo the Great said, “Jesus is the hand of God’s mercy stretched out to us.” “You did not choose me but I chose you,” Jesus said (Jn.15:16).
An invitation calls for a choice: acceptance or refusal. This is the theme of the readings at today’s Mass. In the Old Testament reading, Joshua (whose name, incidentally, is the Hebrew form of Jesus) said to the people, “Choose today whom you wish to serve.”
The “gods beyond the river,” no doubt, had their attractions; they probably demanded less and could be easily manipulated. Joshua’s God was more demanding. In the gospel reading Jesus asks his disciples to make a similar choice. For Peter there was no contest: “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the message of eternal life.”
Joshua had said, “God is a jealous God” (Josh.24:19). What sense does it make to speak of the jealousy of God? It is a large theme in the Old Testament. In one place, ‘Jealousy’ is even said to be God’s name (Exo.34:14). But there is right jealously.
If parents saw their daughter getting into an intense friendship with an unprincipled ruffian, they would be very jealous indeed. This does not mean that they want to keep her locked up forever.
They want her to meet people who will not use her as a plaything, but instead respect and love her. Their jealousy is an expression of their love. Likewise God, but infinitely more so.
God is absolute. This means that God is not prepared to be part of anything. A God who was less than absolute would only be a plaything for human beings. Likewise the demands of Jesus are absolute. They can be rejected, but they cannot be diluted. Why? Because that is the nature of love.
Now just think of the other challenging and difficult teachings of Jesus? Like for e.g., love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who despitefully use you, and persecute you” (Matt.5:43-44).
Or how about this: Do not resist an evildoer; if he strikes you on your right cheek, turn the other to him as well (Matt.5:39). Or, if you do not take up your cross and follow me, you cannot be my disciple. In fact, every page of the gospels is filled with some kind of hard teachings of Jesus.
These teachings of Jesus may sound absurd and ridiculous, yet His words are spirit and they are life, and they contain the message of eternal life. In fact, Jesus and His message is like a paradox, which may initially seem absurd and ridiculous, but nonetheless true.
Yes, it is the truth, but it is only after going through the pains of the trails of life that we can discover the truth of Jesus and His message. Because it is in the trials of life that we will have to decide whether to leave Jesus or to believe in Him; whether to stay with Jesus or to stay away from Him.
The words of Jesus may seem ridiculous and absurd, but it is truth and life. Do we leave it, or believe in it? Will we stay with Jesus, or will we stay away from Jesus? From Peter we hear these profound words: Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life and we believe.
Oh yes, life can be a paradox; there will be good times, there will be bad times. Yet good times or bad times, it is hard to say. What we must do is to believe and stay with Jesus, because only He has the message of eternal life and he is the life giving bread that came down from heaven.
Let us make our choice for Christ and live it. 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 his Holy Spirit.
The Heavenly Bread and the Holy Spirit will give us the courage of our Christian convictions to take a stand for Jesus, to accept the Church’s teachings and to face ridicule, criticisms and even social isolation. That is what we mean by our “Amen” while receiving Jesus in Holy Communion.
We express without any conditions or reservations our total commitment to him in the community to which we belong. Christ’s thoughts and attitudes, his values, his life-view must become totally ours.
Above all, we are to identify with him in the offering of his Flesh and the pouring out of his Blood on the cross by spending our lives for others. Amen.