The Twenty-First Sunday in Ordinary Time
2015 – Cycle B
Joshua 24:1:2a, 15-17, 18b; Psalm 34; Ephesians 5:21-32; John 6:60-69
On a wedding day a couple becomes a bride and groom. And though at the reception they are introduced as husband and wife, are they as yet? Is being husband and wife a fact of what you are or is it something you become over the years as you discover more deeply who you and your spouse are through living out the Sacrament of Marriage?
Maybe those among us who have experienced separation and divorce can speak more eloquently to the question. For them, I expect, the wedding day was not some magical moment and the becoming husband and wife did not happen even after many years of marriage.
In parallel questions, does a man become a priest or bishop on the day of ordination or does he mature and discover what priesthood is over the years through the grace of the Sacrament of Holy Orders and daily living? Is a person a Christian on the day of Baptism or does a person nurture into becoming a Christian over the years of prayer and grace, support and example, worship and service?
We need to move away from the concept of Sacraments as static events that happened in our past to a livelier concept that Sacraments are a relationship in and with Christ that grows and matures. Along with that comes the realization that not every person matures at the same time or matures at all. Experiencing a sacramental rite does not mean that automatically we are husband and wife, spontaneously we are a Christian, necessarily a priest or deacon. Or because we receive Holy Communion each week at Eucharist we are becoming the Body and Blood of Christ to in turn nourish our world. God’s grace is always poured forth in the celebration of the Sacraments but a static understanding of sacraments does a great injustice to our free will and our relationship with Jesus.
For five weeks, we have been listening and reflecting on the sixth chapter of John. Reflecting on hunger, considering our eating habits, the meaning of eating and drinking Flesh and Blood, taking action to alleviate hunger by writing letters of advocacy to congressional representatives and at times feeling uncomfortable, have marked these weeks. We conclude the chapter with the declaration of Peter speaking for the twelve Apostles, “We have come to believe and are convinced that you are the Holy One of God.” [John 6:69]
Consider the meaning behind the words, “We have come to believe…” They imply that there was a time when Peter and the Twelve questioned and did not believe that Jesus was the Holy One of God. The very same words are used by Martha, the sister of Lazarus and Mary, at the death of her brother. “Jesus told Martha, “I am the resurrection and the life…Do you believe this?” Martha said to Jesus, “Yes, Lord. I have come to believe that you are the Christ.”” [John 11:27] There was a time when Martha did not believe and wondered who Jesus might be.
For both Martha and the Apostles belief was a process, a growing into a relationship with Jesus. They came to believe in Jesus because they spent time with him, came to know him more deeply and allowed him to know them with all their weaknesses, gifts, talents and sins. Relationships that are not regularly nourished, die.
Consider how many of us were formed as Catholics and how we continue forming our children into Christians. We were put in a classroom and bored with questions and answers of the catechism; given facts about the church, Jesus and the tradition. And there is a place for that information. But information and facts never change a person. A glaring example is that half the population of the United States does not accept Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution despite the preponderance of evidence. Even our cautious and serious Catholic Church accepts the evidence and sees no conflict between sacred Scripture, faith and evolution. Yet few believe. Facts do not change people; experience does. How much more so with Jesus? Believing, like sacramental experiences, has and is a continuing activity. There is never a time that as husband and wife, as a Christian, as a priest, that growing in relationship with each other and Jesus is finished.
Do not the words of the marriage vows, “I promise to be true to you in good times and in bad, in sickness and in health. I will love you and honor you all the days of my life.” [Roman Ritual] not have more weight and meaning on a 45th anniversary then on the day of the wedding? Why? Because the words have been tried and experience has formed them. People become husbands and wives not on a wedding day but over time by serving each other out of reverence for Christ; by loving each other as Christ loved the Church, that is, by dying for each other. [Ephesians 5:21-32]
Throughout the whole of chapter six, people have been struggling with what Jesus does and says. What is the meaning of feeding the people with so few fish and loaves? What does this act tell us about Jesus? People seek Jesus out, some for good reasons others for not so good; they found a free meal wagon. Some people complain and question, they quarrel among themselves and desire more food. They question Jesus’ family background and his authority. They are repulsed by his cannibalistic references to eating and drinking flesh and blood. In the end, some walk away and stop listening and following Jesus.
Throughout this chapter we witness what a person must do to engage belief. Believing is not a set of facts and information passed on to another generation. It is not a consumer product that you acquire because you “got” a sacrament. Believing, like marriage, like Holy Orders, like vow religious life, is a maturing into what it means to follow Jesus.
- Following Jesus is addressing the basic needs of people such as feeding the hungry, physically and spiritually.
- Following Jesus is to be an example of trust and calm in the midst of the storms that assail others during life.
- Following Jesus is to worship God communally in spirt and truth as he did in synagogue and Temple.
- Following Jesus is to accept people as they are and to be committed to their maturity in the Holy Spirit.
- Following Jesus is to live life uncomfortably and unsatisfied so as to always be seeking Jesus out as our friend and companion.
Like Martha, Peter and the Apostles and centuries of Christians before us, we all have to honestly confront and answer the question: “Do you also want to leave?” [John 6:67]The answer will depend on whether we have experienced and struggled with who Jesus is and what meaning his life has for us. The answer will depend on whether we have nourished over the years a relationship with Jesus that goes both ways. Our answers may be incomplete and that’s OK. Our answers though must be honest. Some will walk away (many in our families have) and some will begin or continue to follow Jesus.
What have you come to believe about Jesus?
Are you as yet convinced that Jesus is the Holy One of God?