Joshua gathered all the tribes of Israel together at Shechem; he then summoned all the elders of Israel, its leaders, judges and officials, and they presented themselves in God's presence.
2 Joshua then said to all the people: 'Yahweh, the God of Israel, says this, "From time immemorial, your ancestors, Terah, father of Abraham and Nahor, lived beyond the River, and served other gods.
15 But if serving Yahweh seems a bad thing to you, today you must make up your minds whom you do mean to serve, whether the gods whom your ancestors served beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites in whose country you are now living. As regards my family and me, we shall serve Yahweh.'
16 The people replied, 'Far be it from us to desert Yahweh and to serve other gods!
17 Yahweh our God was the one who brought us and our ancestors here from Egypt, from the place of slave-labour, who worked those great wonders before our eyes and who kept us safe all along the way we travelled and among all the peoples through whom we passed.
18 And Yahweh has driven all the nations out for us, including the Amorites who used to live in the country. We too shall serve Yahweh, for he is our God.'
Reading 2, Ephesians 5:21-3221
Be subject to one another out of reverence for Christ.
22 Wives should be subject to their husbands as to the Lord,
23 since, as Christ is head of the Church and saves the whole body, so is a husband the head of his wife;
24 and as the Church is subject to Christ, so should wives be to their husbands, in everything.
25 Husbands should love their wives, just as Christ loved the Church and sacrificed himself for her
26 to make her holy by washing her in cleansing water with a form of words,
27 so that when he took the Church to himself she would be glorious, with no speck or wrinkle or anything like that, but holy and faultless.
28 In the same way, husbands must love their wives as they love their own bodies; for a man to love his wife is for him to love himself.
29 A man never hates his own body, but he feeds it and looks after it; and that is the way Christ treats the Church,
30 because we are parts of his Body.
31 This is why a man leaves his father and mother and becomes attached to his wife, and the two become one flesh.
32 This mystery has great significance, but I am applying it to Christ and the Church.
Gospel, John 6:60-6960
After hearing it, many of his followers said, 'This is intolerable language. How could anyone accept it?'
61 Jesus was aware that his followers were complaining about it and said, 'Does this disturb you?
62 What if you should see the Son of man ascend to where he was before?
63 'It is the spirit that gives life, the flesh has nothing to offer. The words I have spoken to you are spiritand they are life.
64 'But there are some of you who do not believe.' For Jesus knew from the outset who did not believe and who was to betray him.
65 He went on, 'This is why I told you that no one could come to me except by the gift of the Father.'
66 After this, many of his disciples went away and accompanied him no more.
67 Then Jesus said to the Twelve, 'What about you, do you want to go away too?'
68 Simon Peter answered, 'Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the message of eternal life,
69 and we believe; we have come to know that you are the Holy One of God.'
The gospel of today, conscious that it is now the concluding part of the Bread of Life discourse, caps with the two prominent attitudes towards Jesus’ Words: disappointing unbelief and the steadfastness of faith. These two reactions set us into our meditation today as it allows us to situate our faith in the context of Jesus’ challenge of abandoning ourselves to him. Mindful of the context provided by the previous three Sundays, the Bread of Life discourse unfolds a challenging message. But the focal point of the Bread of Life discourse is Jesus’ invitation to entrust our faith to him; for whoever believes in Him receives eternal life. And since Jesus picked up the image of eating from the sign he had done before this discourse, Jesus challenges those who have eaten that bodily bread, to entrust their faith into a new and greater level. They must not only believe in him just because he has able to provide bread from out of scarce. Rather, they must believe in him because He is the Bread of Life himself. Yet, the long and arduous discussion over this matter yielded a greater unbelief from among his circle. Jesus’ disciples cannot accept a hard saying which Jesus dares them to stand for. They cannot understand Jesus’ revelation and indeed the promise of that revelation which is eternal life is not clear to them. Consequently, they have to desert the Lord because he sounds untenable, weird and eccentric. Who is going to eat the flesh and drink the blood of someone and from which action (which is first and foremost unacceptable) one gains eternal life? The disciples found it puzzling and it does not practically make sense! For them, perhaps, that is the most unbelievable; it is out of one’s right mind to realize that.
But hope sprouts from that sad story of abandonment. The apostles themselves, now facing the challenge, take a stand to believe. Peter, their spokesperson, answers Jesus’ challenge not heroically but it is an answer of full entrustment; it is an answer total self-abandonment. Unlike the previous disciples who saved their skin from the mystery and abandon Jesus on account of this; Peter and his comrades abandon themselves to the mystery of Jesus. He said: “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life; and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God” (Joh 6:68-69 RSV). The apostles’ confidence is well-founded on their hope that Jesus will make sense; if not that discernible for now; perhaps at some future time. But, they believe that by the fact that they throw themselves to the mystery of God, to his words of eternal life, they begin a journey of faith that will surely open to them paths that will make this faith meaningful in their lives. Faith in God does not start with some clear picture of the future promise; it starts something as a dimly vision in a mirror (cf. 1 Cor. 13:12) as Paul tries to express it, but surely later it will reveal itself when “face to face” one can behold the object of this faith. Peter and the apostles risk for a faith through faith and they did this not because they have the capacity to do it. It is God’s grace that moves them. Like also Mary, the Mother of Jesus, who at first cannot picture the message of the angel to her to become the Mother of the Savior, throws herself to the action of God’s grace so that she will accept God’s will to her even without a complete or sufficient knowledge of what she is entering into.
God’s grace of faith is what makes life more meaningful and grounded; a life even stormed by the physical strength of problems, can always trust and anchor its hope in God. This is what is lacking with those who abandoned Jesus, they had not been docile to the action of God’s grace but rather, as we have meditated Sundays before, they listen contently to the murmur of their own making and thus listening to their own voices which can never do great apart from God’s grace. Like Joshua in our first reading, let us continually be confident in proclaiming our steadfastness to God even though heaps of challenges and problems bump us along the journey of faith. Without faith, we cannot profess our service to Jesus, because without faith, he is meaningless in us. Our confidence in him too finds meaning, our life story – the whole of it with all the good and bad chapters, our sufferings, our joys are only meaningful because it is tied in faith in Christ Jesus.
Concluding this meditation, I take the word from our Holy Father, Benedict XVI who said: “We see that to be God’s child is not a matter of dependency, but rather of standing in the relation of love that sustains man’s existence and gives it meaning and grandeur” (Pope Benedict XVI, Jesus of Nazareth Part I, p. 139). Indeed, faith allows us to recognize our relationship with God not because we are dependent, not because we see him providing bread for our physical hunger. We recognize this relationship as love; a relationship truly imbued by God’s own initiative of calling us through faith. From that initiative of God calling us, we configure ourselves to him, shaping our life’s meaning according to his will.
Fray Ric Anthony Reyes, OSA