Mass as Heaven on Earth – Week Five Homily

The Moment of Decision-Making

Homily by Fr. Marcellinus Onyejekwe, CMF.

21st Sunday, Ordinary Time, Year B.

Readings: Joshua 24:1-2, 15-18; Ephesians 5:21-32; John 6:60-69

Each day of our life, we are faced with the challenges of decision-making, based on the different circumstances we go through. Some decisions are easy to make, some are tough. The readings of today, especially the first reading and the Gospel, talk about decision-making, not merely on the physical but spiritual level.

For the past five Sundays we have been reading and reflecting on chapter 6 of the gospel according John, where Jesus speaks about the Bread of Life. Jesus identified himself with this Bread, came down from heaven. The 1st Sunday was the Sunday of miracle. Jesus multiplied the five loaves and two fish to feed the crowd. It was the moment of glory, the time of joy based on the physical appearance. They wanted to crown Jesus King so that he would continue to do such miracles for them and give them bread to eat free of charge.

The second Sunday, Jesus asked them, “Do you look for me because I gave you bread? Do you want to make me king because you have eaten freely without paying? The food you eat now will perish but I advise you to seek for the food that does not perish, that leads to life eternal. They said, “Give us that bread so that we will not perish.” Jesus said, I am that Bread, came down from heaven. Believe in me. Believe in my Word. They found it hard to believe because they were focusing on the sensory perceptions. Jesus was telling them to go beyond the level of the physical, to transcend above the peripheral and discover the spiritual gift, the gift of the kingdom that God is offering them; but they couldn’t see it or believe in Him because they knew his human origin. The humanity of Jesus became an obstacle for them to believe in Him. All of us most often remain on the material and the physical level, on the sensory perceptions but Jesus is challenging us to go beyond that, He is always drawing us up to the Father, calling us to a spiritual encounter with God’s love.

The Jews said, Moses did wonders in the desert, he gave manna to our ancestors, not just for one day, not for one month or one year, but many years. What sign can you do for us to believe in you? Jesus replied, “It was not Moses that gave you manna in the desert, it was my Father in heaven. But mind you, your ancestors ate manna for all those years but they died. The bread that I’ll give, will make you live eternally.” They said, “Give us that bread”. Jesus replied, “I am the Bread of Life…” They questioned, “Who do you claim to be? How can you give us your body to eat? This is a hard teaching to accept. And so, one by one they began to leave him. The crowd left! They made their decision. Jesus watched them leave. He was not perturbed. He wasn’t disappointed. He let them exercise their freedom.

He did not change anything of what he said. He did not remove or modify anything. And they chose to leave. Then Jesus turned to his Apostles, the few that were left, and asked, “What about you, are you not following them?” Peter speaking for the rest of the Apostles, replied, “Master, to whom shall we go? You have the message of eternal life.” You have told us in the past that you are the Way, the Truth and the Life. If we leave you, to whom shall we go? Who will give us everything we need. Where shall we go and not be disappointed? Who shall we follow, who will show us the way, and tell us the truth or give us eternal life? Master, we are going nowhere; we are with you.

Today is the end of that discourse, that pedagogy on the Bread of Life. Jesus says I am that Bread that came down from heaven, which brings us into intimate relationship with the Father – the Eucharist. Eat me and you will live eternally. The liturgy of today calls us to decide. Not so much on matters of physical life but on spiritual life. It is about our faith in God, faith in Christ, the Christian faith, the Catholic faith, the Eucharistic faith. Because so many things are happening in our time, many are developing coldness, tending not to believe anymore. So, today we face a great challenge.

In the first reading, we saw a similar situation. The Israelites, a few years of entering and taking possession of the Promised Land, discovered that the Amorites who inhabited the land had a different religion, faith, ideas, rites, etc.  A good number began to drift, to be attracted by those ways. So, Joshua summoned them, called for a great assembly at Shechem. He said to them, look, we have come to a great moment in our history, it is important for us now to make a firm decision. Choose for yourself which God to follow, which God to serve. As for me and my family, we have chosen Yahweh the living God.

Why would Joshua ask them to choose? Yahweh – the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, did great wonders to liberate them from bondage in Egypt, did great wonders to lead them through the Red Sea, to feed them in the desert, give them drink, preserve them, led them to the Promised Land. At the foot of Sinai, he entered into covenant with them. He promised to be their God and they shall be his people. Why again is he asking them to choose? Because of the new circumstances, new distractions, new temptations etc. So, it is important to go on renewing our faith, our belief, our commitment to God every day. That was what happened at Shechem, and that is our own experiences always.

At baptism or at First Holy Communion, at Confirmation, at different times of our Christian life, we are full of zeal, full of enthusiasm about the church, all was good and we make our commitment and we profess our faith in Jesus. However, what happens after? A few months, a few years, things begin to happen. Things beautiful, things not so beautiful. Challenges begin to come, and we begin to experience difficulties in many different ways. Perhaps some of the brothers and sisters are not so positive, not so loving, perhaps this or that… and the spirit begins to go down. One experience or another may come between us and God. So, today he challenges us to choose who to follow.

Just like the present moment the Church is going through all over the world, but more especially in Europe and North America, there is the atmosphere of confusion and anger. People are asking, what is happening? If that is the case, it’s better to walk away from the Church and go home and rest. And many disciples of Christ, many Christians are going away. Dear brothers and sisters, do you not think that at this time in the history of our Church, Jesus is speaking to us? He is asking us, like the few that stayed with him, “What about you, are you not following them?” Make your choices. And every choice goes with commitment.

The three readings put before our eyes the things we need to consider to make a good choice. The circumstances are changing, just as we saw in the first reading. Things are happening and many are beginning to waver, many are in doubt or confused. Now the Church and God is asking us to make a choice. What will be the basis of our choice? The danger is to remain only on the periphery, on the sensory perceptions, on the material level, on the level of the world, the glory, the beneficial. We see not with the eyes of God, or the eyes of faith. But God is inviting us to try and see from the eyes of Christ, the eyes of faith, even when we do not understand it all. Put it at the feet of Jesus, bring it in prayer and say, “God show me the way, I do not know the way.”

What is God telling us out of what is happening? What is the Spirit telling us out of what is happening? Not only in the church. It is everywhere where there are human beings – in the family, in the society, in public schools, among sports institutions, among musicians, everywhere. Now is the moment to make our decision. If we remain on the sensory perception, the easiest tendency is to call it an end, to throw in the towel, to go and rest. Many may leave the church but where do you go? Join the Pentecostals? Perhaps! Join the Muslims? Perhaps! Remain in your house and not go to any place? Perhaps! Is that the answer? Does that satisfy the deep yearning of your heart? That is the biggest question? Where do we go? Who do we follow? Where do we not get disappointments? Where do we not get discouragements? Where do we not get scandals? Where do we have it all perfect here on earth? Nowhere! It is only in heaven; its only in Jesus Christ, only in God that we have perfection. And so, we are going nowhere. We are with Christ, because we have seen that he has the Words of Eternal life.

Therefore, the challenge is to make a choice based not on the material level, not on the apparently beautiful. To be able to look beyond the agents of salvation. The priest is an agent of salvation. He is not salvation itself. Christ is Salvation. The clergy – the deacon, the priest, the bishop, the pope, all of us, we are agents of salvation. And so, if the agent falters, salvation remains and that is Christ. Unless we are able to look beyond the humanity of the agents, we may give up our faith. Although we have the duty to lead people to salvation, but because we are not Christ, we are weak, imperfect and mere instruments. In our effort to lead, we can err; we can mess up and if we do, the matured mind, the matured faith, matured Christian will be able to say, get out of my way, let me go to my salvation – Christ. I will not abandon Jesus because he is stable. He does not change or disappoint.

The Gospel of Matthew often teaches us through some parables that the Church (of which all of us are members) is a mixture of good and bad – Saints and sinners. The parable of the dragnet thrown into the sea that gathers all kinds of fish – good and bad and they put it ashore and separated the good and the bad, the parable of the darnel where the good seed was sown and the enemy went and sowed bad seeds, at harvest time they separated the good from the bad. So many parables like that in the Bible teach us that, here on earth we are a mixture of yes and no, positive and negative, yet we have to move on. As we move on, the grace of God will work in us, the bad will be changed into good. We pray that the good may not turn to be bad, but there is a tendency.

All this comes into what it means to make a choice for Christ. To make a choice for Christianity, to make a choice for Catholicism, to make a choice for the sacramental life of the church.

Believing in God, being a Christian, as St. Paul tells us in his letter to the Romans, is not just food and drink, representing the goodies of the world, is not always pleasure, not always yes. It is righteousness and peace. So, my dear brothers and sisters, the word of God calls us to decide.

St. Paul also tells us in the second reading, what is important to make a right decision. Often there are two motivations – selfishness and altruism. Selfishness is stronger in making our choices, what shall I gain? What will be good for me? But altruism considers the other first. And that is at stake in the second reading. Like many of you who are husbands and wives, you know how it was when you started your relationship. You know what your visions were at the beginning. You know your perceptions about married life, how your home and life would be; how my husband would be; how we would be happy and joyful as a family, and then it came to the moment of choosing. Although choosing a life partner is not easy, but at a point you have to decide, and you decided to marry each other. You committed yourselves. Choice comes with commitment. But what is happening now? In the intimacy of your family, can you say that you have all those things you were imagining, all those ideals of a happy and perfect family? Definitely not! Some yes, some no. Some places you are successful and some places no. So, you have to adjust to make your family life move on. And those who don’t want to adjust, they break up and walk away, and the marriage ends. But have they found their happiness? Have they found their peace? Definitely not!

So, “To whom shall we go?” As Christians we are called to make sacrifice, donation of ourselves to serve. That is the Christian life St. Paul is calling us to live with the example of married life. Do not choose because of what you will gain. Choose because you love. And when you love, you give of yourself, you donate yourself, you serve with love. You give and you take for the good of your beloved. Wives subject yourselves to your husbands. Husbands love your wives. They are the same thing. If you don’t love, you don’t submit yourself, you don’t commit yourself. If you don’t love, you don’t listen, you don’t care. So, you have to love to be able to commit yourself and give of yourself for the good of the other. That’s what the topic of today is all about. Don’t just make a choice based on the physical or material level but on the spiritual level. This choice goes with commitment. Are you ready for it?  

The choice today is about the Eucharistic Jesus, about Jesus broken and given for others. Are you ready to identify with Jesus when you receive communion, to give yourself to be broken for the good of the brothers and sisters? To accept inconveniences, what looks ordinary to human senses, on account of this belief, on account of my faith and anticipation of the kingdom – salvation. Where do we go Jesus? You have the Words of eternal life.

Fr. Toochukwu told me that for the past five weeks, he has been doing pedagogy of the Holy Mass. The different parts of the Mass, the meaning and implications of what we do and say, the roles of the ministers and all that. The Eucharist is the Centre and Summit of the Christian life. The documents of the Church, especially Pope John Paul II, tell us. It draws us together, feeds and strengthens us to live out the Eucharistic experience – Love in action. Being broken and given out for the good of our little brothers and sisters. He or she who is able to do that is a Christian, a disciple of Christ. It is not easy but we pray and trust in God, allowing ourselves to be led, to be energized in our faith.

So, my sisters and brothers, today we renew our commitment, we renew our decision, our choice every day, when it is good, when it is bad, when it is positive, when it is negative, when it is sweet, when it is bitter. And that is what is being asked of us, otherwise the wind can carry us left and right and can throw us away. But Jesus is always there. May he lead us to Salvation, who lives and reigns forever and ever, Amen!        

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