Twenty First Sunday in Ordinary Time

Jesus Christ is the One We Will Always Choose to Follow
By Father Pete Iorio

One of my favorite saints is Teresa of Calcutta whose feast day is coming up on September 5th. When a reporter asked Mother Teresa why she went to Mass every day at 4:30 AM she replied, “If I didn’t meet my Master every day, I’d be doing no more than social work.”
We are here today to meet Christ, not here for some other reason. We are here to listen for Christ’s word for our life. We are here to know Christ in the breaking of the Bread of Life, the Eucharist. We will find what John and Simon Peter and St. Augustine and Saint Mother Teresa found: “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We believe and know that you are the Holy One of God.”
The main theme of today’s readings is that Christian life is a series of daily choices for God or against God, as we choose to live out or reject the truths He has revealed through His prophets in the Old Testament and especially through His Son Jesus in the New Testament. The fundamental choice we make determines how we live our lives, deciding whom we will serve.
When some people do something wrong, they may cast blame on the evil one and say: “The devil made me do it.” Let us be very clear: the devil does not make anyone do anything. We are responsible for choosing our own sin. One of the greatest gifts that God has given human beings is the gift of free will. We are faced with choices all the time, and yes, we certainly are tempted to choose selfishly. In the spiritual life, we need to grow in our awareness of what is good, and we also need to grow in our ability to not fall into temptation when it can hurt us or another.
The authors of Genesis seem to have had no problem describing the first sin without blaming it on the devil. There is no indication in the Genesis story that the serpent was anything more to the man and woman than a talking snake. Satan as a character does not appear in the Bible until the Book of Job, where he is portrayed as a “servant” rather than an enemy of God. By Jesus’ time the devil had become the explanation for all that goes wrong in the world.
When Jesus is tempted in the desert, He is not made to do anything. He is given a choice to be selfish in terms of being all powerful, of being able to possess all things and to be considered prestigious, the best of the best. Jesus makes a choice, and His choice is always for God.
In the first reading today, Joshua challenges the Israelites to decide whom they will serve, the gods of the Amorites in whose country they were then dwelling or the God of Israelites who has done so much for them. The people answered that God did indeed do miracles for them, leading them out of slavery and through the desert to the Promised Land; therefore, they will serve the Lord, for He is their God.
The second reading emphasizes the unity that must exist in the Body of Christ and the intimate relationship between Jesus and his followers. It also challenges the Ephesian Christians to make the right choices in life and build Christian marriages on mutual respect and love, accepting each other’s’ rights and dignity. Paul also uses the husband-wife relationship as an analogy to explain the close relationship between Christ and the Church. Paul reminds us that Jesus nourishes us, the members of his Church, through the Eucharist, making us His own Flesh and Blood, as husband and wife become one flesh.
Concluding his long Bread of Life discourse in today’s Gospel, Jesus, challenges his audience to make their choice of accepting him as the true Bread from Heaven who gives his Body and Blood as their Heavenly Food, or of joining those who have lost their faith in him and left him, expressing their confusion and doubts about his claims. Today’s passage describes the various reactions of the people to Jesus’ claims. Jesus gives his twelve apostles the option of leaving him or staying with him. The apostles exercise their freedom of choice by choosing to stay with Jesus. In this Eucharistic celebration, we, too, are called to make a decision, profess our faith in God’s Son and renew the Covenant ratified in Jesus’ life, death and Resurrection.
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 Jesus gives and relying on the power of the 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 for our adherence to sound Christian principles in our lives. That is what we mean by our “Amen” as we receive 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 Jesus in the offering of his Flesh and the pouring out of his Blood on the cross by spending our own lives for others.
Jesus asks us today as He asked the Twelve: For whatever reason, “do you also want to leave?”

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