B Cycle – 21st Sunday in Ordinary Time 21
Many years ago, there was a couple who wanted more in their lives and what they wanted was to have a faith component to their lives. They had explored other faiths and decided the Catholic faith was more appealing to them and offered to them something concrete and stable. Which meant they were seeking something which was not fuzzy or shifting and what was expected of them was clear. In basic terms, they liked the fact the rules were clear, right was and wrong were defined. The mass structure was the same worldwide even if the cultural differences changed.
Recently there was an unscientific survey which concluded thirty percent of every Catholic congregation does not want any more than want they were experiencing on Sunday. Thirty percent were only there because of obligation or fear that by not showing up they will be judged harshly. Fifteen percent were in church because they wanted “family “togetherness” in their choice of worship. This left the remaining percent attending mass for the more God wants us all to experience and responding to his presence in word and sacrament.
If you look at these numbers it is easy to conclude most people want a comfortable religion, something which allows them to feel good about themselves compared to the “sinners” they encounter each day.
Perhaps that is a harsh judgment because many parishes are vibrant with active participation every week. Yet if you really examine the number of individuals who are seeking the more God offers each of us. Yet, you will find many parishioners only come to mass without participating much at all. They are present, pay their tithe and yes even perhaps volunteer to serve the poor. But they fail to encounter God or respond to his presence. The sad truth is many Catholics are like that couple. They prefer predictability, desiring only a comfortable expression of faith. This they believe is all that is necessary to be in right standing with God because they are following a vision of what makes a good Catholic.
These readings today are challenging that view of what it means to believe in Christ and how Christ constantly challenges us to continually take another step into the unknown territory of discipleship. In our first reading Joshua is now the leader of the Israelites, and he is challenging them be very bold in their belief by daily giving witness to it. We can easily compare ourselves to those listening to Joshua because we live in a world where enticements of every kind tell us this is the way to fulfill our hearts desire and it is easy to separate what we do on Sunday from our everyday life and not even speak of our belief in Jesus Christ from Monday to the next Sunday.
In the gospel, Jesus had just spoken to his followers about “eating his flesh and drinking his blood.” He them saying the thought of eating his flesh and drinking his blood “is “hard to take.” It is so outrageous they not only reject it, but they decide to leave and no longer follow him.
These readings are challenging us not to ever get comfortable because God desires to give us more than we are experiencing. Joshua has people responding by a very loudly declaring “they will do all the Lord says” because he did so many wonderful and marvelous things for them on their journey. Yet, if you read the scriptures, they quickly fell back into following old habits and practices and stopped following the Lord with all their hearts.
As Jesus watches those who could not accept his teaching turn away, he reinforces to those who remain something must happen if we are to follow him. We must overcome the desire to remain where we are in our relationship with him. We must desire to discover the more God desires to do within us to change us. We must give up control for the uncertainty of discipleship. There is a huge difference between living our faith and practicing our faith. One way allows us to define for ourselves what is acceptable to God and the other is to realize God is constantly challenging us to grow in his likeness and become bold witnesses of salvation through Christ alone.
God’s way is never stagnant because God is constantly challenging us to do something we find uncomfortable. It will never end until we are embraced by God and hear him say “well done good and faithful servant.” Our God is a God who loves to surprise us as well as challenge us. If we embrace Jesus Christ as Lord, if we allow the Holy Spirit into our lives to transform our hearts, then the surprises will come to us and fill us with joy.
We will experience a miracle working God, we will experience the power of forgiveness and the delight of a Father who loves us. Why would we choose predictability over witnessing God’s power and majesty? Why would we prefer to come and go to a Sunday mass that does not impact us beyond making us feel good about being there weekly? Do we act on our belief Jesus has the word of everlasting life?
It is too easy to say we believe and then fall back into our comfortable life of not seek to have those words touch our hearts. Do we daily read the scriptures, pray the scriptures, ask the Spirit to enlighten our minds to respond to God’s words? If our answer is no, then we are not seeking the very words that offer us life. Then we are not allowing those words of eternal life to reveal to us the meaning and purpose of our lives.
If we say yes to that question, then we need to ask ourselves how we are sharing that word with others. Meaning, are we going to those who prefer a faith that is predictable over a God who is challenging them to take a step into the unknown and asking them a version of the question Jesus asks in today’s gospel – “do you want the eternal life Jesus offers?” If the answer is yes, then we have no choice but to leave our place of comfort and allow the Spirit to change us.