JOSHUA 24:1-2, 15-18; PSALM 34; EPHESIANS 5:21-32; JOHN 6:60-69
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FR. DANIEL EVBOTOKHAI
“LORD, TO WHOM SHALL WE GO?” SPIRITUAL DEFECTION
The readings today present us with the basic theme “Spiritual Defection”. Defection is defined as desertion from allegiance or loyalty. It involves abandoning a person, cause, or doctrine to which one is bound by some tie, in a way which is considered illegitimate by the first state. Oftentimes a defector is a traitor. We have all witnessed politicians defecting from one party to another especially when their political ambitions are tried or challenged. We have equally witnessed many Christians who defect from Christ to idols; church members who defect from one church to another searching for solutions and there are those who left the Catholic Church because they did not like the Church’s teaching on Holy Communion, Marriage, Mary and the likes.
Today’s gospel presents us with those who spiritually defected from Christ and those who submitted to Christ. In the gospel, we had those who were initially interested in Jesus and followed him until he started teaching some things that they didn’t like. Then they defected. There were those, like Judas, who betrayed him and others, like Peter, who submitted to him. Similarly, the first reading also presents us with those who decided to serve the Lord. At the great assembly of Shechem the people of Israel decided to choose God and rejected idols.
Beloved, spiritual defection takes place when the faith of a believer is built on the wrong foundation. When an individual thinks of Christ only as bread-giver; wonder worker and not as Saviour and the Giver of eternal life. Oftentimes we are good Christians until there are basic challenges in our lives. When confronted with such challenges we find Christ’s teaching difficult to keep. We see the commandments as burdens and we begin to search for places to defect to. It was at such moments today that Jesus asked his disciples “Will you also go away?” Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life…” Beloved, in order for us not to defect in moments of challenges or when the teaching has become so difficult to understand, we must take note of the following:
- There are hard truths in God’s Word that must be submitted to, even if we don’t like them: After Jesus spoke to the people saying to them “I am the Bread of Life; he who comes to me shall not hunger” the Bible says many of the disciples said, “This is a hard saying; who can listen to it?” Jesus asked them “Do you take offence at this?” Beloved, there are some hard sayings in the Bible and the Church will not make them less of what they are. No abortion; no contraception; nonviolence and the likes. These are hard but do we take offense at them?
- We must be born of the Spirit: Jesus said to the disciples “It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh profits nothing; the words that I have spoken to you are spirit and are life” (John6:63). A carnal man cannot understand the things of the Spirit; for him, they are too difficult. One who is carnally minded cannot understand why the Church says honour Mary; they won’t like the Church saying no to violence etc. Thus, Jesus confronted the root problem of the grumblers. They were not born again. If we are not born again we shall argue everything and dislike the Church. Jesus said to Nicodemus in John3:3 “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.” If we are not born of water and the Spirit our religious learning and religious activities won’t take us to heaven. Rom.8:6 “For to be carnally minded is death; but to be spiritually minded is life and peace.”
- We must confront our preconceived ideas: These disciples were grumbling like many of us today because they could not imagine a messiah who will give his flesh for the life of the world. In the same vein, many of us come to the Church with preconceived solutions and answers. When we don’t get those answers we feel offended. We go to Jesus with conceived ideas. People come to the Church seeking for solutions, prosperity, riches and fame rather than seeking for salvation. When they don’t get the desired, they defect to other centers. Beloved, why do you seek Jesus? Why are you in Church today?
- We must be authentic Christians: In the first reading, the Israelites were asked to choose between serving the true God and the gods of the land they entered. It is better to choose who to serve than to divide ourselves into different worships. If you are for Jesus, be for Jesus; if you want to worship idol you are free. Syncretism is a sign of faith crisis; you cannot worship God and mammon. Joshua said to the people choose today who you will serve. We need to make a choice on whom to serve. For Joshua, “As for me and my household we will serve the Lord” (Josh.24:15). For Peter, “Lord, to whom shall we go?” What about you? Beloved, if you reflect on your life and salvation you will have no reason to defect from Jesus.
- We must be ready to make sacrifices: We may not always have it the way we desire. The second reading makes us to understand that the life of love is neither easy nor comfortable. In the same vein, as Christians we should not expect comfort at all times. We must express self-denial and control our appetite. If we master our appetites, we have no need to defect to other gods. God bless you.
Fr Galadima Bitrus, (OSA)
CHOOSING TO SERVE GOD FOLLOWING CHRIST
The readings for our reflection this Sunday give us an overview of what Christian living essentially consists in, namely, a free choice to serve God by following the example and teachings of Jesus Christ.
The 1st Reading (Josh 24:1-2.15-18) emphasizes serving God as a free, conscious choice made based on experience – personal or collective – and not something automatic or something that can be forced on anyone. Towards the end of his life, Joshua, who took over leadership of the Israelites from Moses and led them into the promised land, summoned Israel and expressed his personal decision to serve the Lord God, making it abundantly clear that it is for the people to also make this choice for themselves.
Joshua first summarized the collective experience of Israel with God and reminded them of the gods their ancestors once served. In this way, he provided every information needed for the people to make an informed and conscious decision (cf. 24:1-13). Then he charged them to make the choice of either revering the Lord and putting away the gods that their fathers served or if they loathe the Lord, to choose the gods they wished to serve – those of their forefathers or those of the Amorites in whose land they lived (24:14-15a), but “As for me and my household”, Joshua declared, “we will serve the Lord” (24:15b).
The people likewise declared their choice to serve the Lord, basing their decision on their experience with the Lord in their exodus from Egypt and entry into the promised land. In these events, they tasted and saw that the Lord is indeed good, as the psalmist puts it (Ps 34:9).
The 2nd Reading (Eph 5:21-32) is part of the so-called Pauline “Household Code” prescribing relations between husbands and wives, parents and children, and masters and slaves (cf. 5:21-6:9). The author emphasizes the equal dignity of all people in Christ by predicating his prescriptions on mutual submissiveness, submissiveness being expressed here with a present participle and a pronoun of mutuality (“hupostassómenoi allḗlois”), better translated as, “being subject to one another” (5:21a), the motivating factor being “reverence for Christ” (“en phóbō xristoȗ”) (5:21b).
He then goes ahead to portray the hierarchical family structure of his time and culture while advocating for an improved quality of relations in the household, infusing them with more humaneness and modeling them after the relation of Christ and his Church, a relation born of pure love and reverence, and not competition for superiority.
The Gospel Reading (from Jn 6:60-69) is the last part of Jesus’ discourse on the Eucharist, depicting two types of reaction to Jesus’ Eucharistic teaching: disbelief, on the one hand, and total submission, on the other. Jesus had earlier taught, “I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats of this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh” (6:51).
On hearing this, the Jews murmured among themselves, questioning how Jesus would give them his flesh to eat (6:52). Jesus reiterated this teaching, emphasizing that “Unless you eat the flesh of the son of man and drink his blood, you have no life in you” (6:53), going further to explain how eating his flesh and drinking his blood creates mutual abiding between the believer and Christ.
But even his own followers found this teaching to be disturbing and unacceptable. They said, “this teaching is difficult; who can accept it?” (6:60). And many of his disciples turned back and stopped following him (6:66). Jesus then asked the twelve whom he had chosen to be closest to him and go around preaching with him, “Do you wish also to go away?” (6:67).
At this, Peter renewed their determination to follow Christ and their profession of faith in Jesus and his teaching, saying: “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and know that you are the Holy One of God” (6:68-69).
The first lesson to draw here is the fact that in his teachings, Jesus did not aim at telling people that which makes them comfortable but that which brings them salvation. For his mission was not to entertain but to save. Therefore, many, not only outsiders but also from among his followers, found some of his teachings difficult, unacceptable and unbelievable. Chief of them is the teaching about the Eucharistic bread and wine as the body and blood of Christ, and the necessity of being nourished by this sacramental or mystical meal for us to abide in Christ and for Christ to abide in us.
Even today, this teaching is a critical point in Christian doctrine, unacceptable to non-believers, difficult to many believers, and a point at which many believers are prepared to part ways or disagree. But it is also a point at which some of Christ’s followers, along with Peter, express total submission and renew their faith and commitment to follow Christ to the letter.
Another lesson from this passage is the fact that Jesus does not hold anybody by force to remain his follower. He knows that not all who follow him will keep following him to the very end, and he gives us the freedom to make the choice to continue or to stop following him, offering us an opportunity every time to renew our faith in him and our commitment to follow him by asking us individually and collectively: “Do you wish also to go away?” (6:67).
FR. PAUL OREDIPE
“Lord, to whom shall we GO?”
On this 21st Sunday of the year in the calendar of the Church, the word of the Lord addresses us directly
“Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the message of eternal life and we believe, we know that you are the Holy One of God.”
My dear brothers and sisters, our Lord Jesus Christ does not want ‘mere followers’. He wants true followers, authentic disciples, people who truly believe in Him, who are deeply convinced and are truly committed to Him.
To just follow? – that is NOT simply what we are called to as Christians, mere followers, but true disciples, persons and people who are deeply convinced and fully and truly committed to following Jesus Christ.
In our everyday life we make choices. We make so many choices even in little things. The way we live our life is by making a choice. We may not always realize this, but at all times and even in all things, we make one choice or another. Our gathering here today is an indication of a choice we have made, at least to come here today and worship.
As the chosen people of God crossed the Jordan and were about to enter the Promised Land, Joshua gathered all the tribes of Israel together at Shechem and ask them to make a rededication of their lives, to make a reaffirmation of their choice. The option of serving the God who led them from Egypt or falling away to serve the pagan gods was presented. “Choose today whom you will serve. . .” He gave the first answer. “but as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.” Later the people gave their own answer.
In today’s gospel, we are presented with the inevitable need to make a choice. We have to decide to take it or leave. It is an invitation and a promise together. The conditions are the same, the urgency is the same, the promise is the same. If we choose to serve Christ, the proof of that choice must be reflected in the way we live: by following Him. The choice is ours – to serve or not to serve.
Let us look again at the incident in the Gospel. As we have been reading in the past 3 Sundays from chapter 6 of Saint John’s gospel, Jesus had just finished talking to many people about the importance and necessity of eating His body and drinking His blood. “The words I have spoken to you are spirit and they are life.” He made it known to them that He means what He said and that He had said what He meant. No parable, no analogy, no illustration, no symbolic language, no metaphor. It was a direct teaching.
The Eucharist is a ‘mystery of faith’. We can never fully understand it. But it is of crucial importance that we should not misunderstand it. The only thing we need to accept and practice is simple faith. The example of Peter is given to us today to help us. What Christ once said to His disciples He says to us even today. “Do you also wish to go away?” He persuades nobody. He does not demand. He does not force. He only claims more faith and confidence, more trust.
What is our choice? Christ, or the lure of money, pleasure, power, possessions and our own pride, egoism? Is our imitation of Christ just superficial, a mere show while our hearts are far away from Him? Have we the honesty and courage to say like the Israelites in the first reading of today: “We shall serve the Lord, because He is our God.” But if we prefer our own will to that of Jesus, we will be like those who forsake Him and give up His company.
Peter asked: Master, to whom shall we go? Peter reveals his loyalty to Jesus. He knew that Jesus alone IS and Jesus alone HAS words of life. This knowledge came from Peter’s personal relationship with Jesus, not out of force, compulsion or deceit.
We can ask ourselves today: ‘What is our relationship with Jesus?’ Have we said ‘yes’ to Jesus freely and voluntary? Have we consolidated our ‘yes’ to Jesus by our repeated commitment to follow Jesus in our day to day life? That will determine or decide the quality of our Christian life. Can we say authentically that:
– Christ is our light, apart from Him there is only darkness ?
– Christ is our life, without Him there is only death ?
– Christ is our strength, without Him there is only weakness ?
– Christ is our love, without Him there is only hatred, bitterness, anger and resentment ?
“Lord, to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe that You are the holy one of God.”
Today we face the same challenge as the Israelites in the first reading and the apostles in the gospel. Shall we accept Jesus as Lord or reject Him ? Or shall we respond to Him with passivity, neither rejecting Him nor fully accepting Him ? Scripture teaches that this “middle road” is not a valid option. “I know your works: you are neither cold nor hot. So, because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I am about to spit you out of my mouth.” (Rev. 3:15).
Each person needs to accept Jesus Christ as his or her Lord and Saviour. We cannot accept Him on the basis of our parents’ decision or on the basis of our family religious heritage. We must make the decision for ourselves. If we choose to serve Christ, the proof of that choice must be reflected in the way we live: by following Him. The choice is ours. We have to choose whom we shall serve.
In today’s gospel, many people left (abandoned) Jesus because they could not accept the truth of His message of salvation. Jesus’ life and message are not innocuous (undemanding or inoffensive). If we do not find them challenging, perhaps we have not really heard their demand. If we choose with eyes open and in honesty to belong to a community which strives, imperfectly, to fulfill such a demanding mission as selflessness and universal love and communion, it can only be because we see that we really have nowhere else to go. Because for all the difficulty of the cross and the scandal of a human church, we are convinced that here we find the words of eternal life.
“Whoever says, ‘I have come to know Jesus,’ but does not obey His commandments, is a liar, and in such a person the truth does not exist; but whoever obeys His word, truly in this person the love of God has reached perfection. By this we may be sure that we are in Him: whoever says, ‘I abide in Him,’ ought to walk just as He walked.” [1 John. 1:3-6]
The test of our allegiance to Christ is in keeping the promises that we have made and accepting God’s will whatever it may be. St James tells us: “You must do what the word tells you and not just listen to it and deceive yourselves.” (James 1:22) To do the will of God the Father does not mean just performing religious practices, but to practice the commandment of love towards our neighbour.
According to the First Letter of St Peter: “Be calm but vigilant, because your enemy the devil is on the prowl like a roaring lion, looking for someone to devour. Stand up to him, strong in faith” (1 Peter 5:8-9).
My brothers and sisters, the ball is in our court: – it is either we serve Him or not. However, once we decide to serve Him, we can and should only do one thing then – we MUST follow. To follow here is no longer an alternative. It becomes an obligation. The moment we have claimed our life for Christ, we have to come along in His footsteps.
In the words of the Gospel: WE MUST FOLLOW HIM. We cannot claim to be a Christian and not walk along in the same path of Christ Himself who is the Way, the Truth and the Life. To follow someone you need to keep them in view, go at their pace, and walk in their steps. Above all, you have to believe that they know where they are going. The following here goes beyond mere or passive imitation. It involves a deeper and inner quality of faith and obedience.
The following of Christ demands firm faith and complete obedience. Such are the leading marks of real followers, and will always be seen in true believing Christians.
To follow Christ in name and form is easy enough and superficial, but to follow Him in faith, trust and obedience demands more than we often take for granted. Among others, this involves a clear sight and understanding, dear love and closeness.
If we have not been faithful to our initial choice, today is an opportunity. In spite of Israel’s infidelity, God is ready to make a new covenant with her. From now her sins are forgiven. This covenant involves making a new heart and a new spirit, writing his law on their hearts and being their God.
In spite of man’s infidelity, God is ever ready to recreate us, to renew us if only we place ourselves completely in His hand and at His feet. He offers us a chance over and over again. “I will be their God and they shall be my people.”
Jesus took upon Himself our sinfulness and became the source of life for all who obey Him. God is God; He remains the same faithful God. Are we always His own people? Are we even ready to follow His covenant of love and life ?
On the whole, the following of Christ is not without its rewards, joys, achievement and fulfillment. “If anyone serves me, my Father will honour him.” The blessing of God awaits His chosen ones, it lies ahead a life of total trust and full faithfulness to Christ.
Let us carefully discern the choices we make in our daily life. But once we decide to serve Christ, let know that we must therefore FOLLOW HIM, follow in the footsteps He lived, joining in the death He died. It is only by this that we can share in His glorious resurrection.
It is our prayer today that our choices will be strengthened and sustained by the grace of God and that we all may be counted worthy of the crown of life through Christ our Lord. Amen.
Fr Galadima Bitrus, (OSA)