In our readings today we are reminded of the fact that in the course of our lives decisions -- both difficult and definitive – may sometimes have to be made:
If it does not please you to serve the LORD, decide today whom you will serve, the gods which your fathers served beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose country you are now dwelling. As for me and my household, we will serve the LORD.
Many of (Jesus’) disciples returned to their former way of life and no longer accompanied Him. Then Jesus said to the Twelve, "Do you also want to leave?"
This is because God the Father made such a decision when He willed that His only-begotten Son should take human flesh to free us from the tyranny of sin and death, thereby obliging us who will to be Christians to make a reciprocal decision in acceptance of His offer of salvation. With God, His decision is sublime and final; we, however, are weak human beings hindered by our native ignorance and personal sinfulness, with the result that any seriously binding decision of ours has to be repeatedly renewed and personally re-affirmed if we are to live it out to fulfilment. Any such decision can be sincerely made only on the basis of right-love motivating the choice, and persevering-commitment enabling us ultimately fulfil our original decision.
Now, such love and commitment are the two qualities St. Paul had in mind when giving his converts guidance with regard to the Christian institution of marriage:
Be subordinate to one another out of reverence for Christ.
Words which he then develops for his immediate purposes by emphasising the predominant failing each of them needs to face:
Wives should be subordinate to their husbands as to the Lord, for the husband is head of his wife just as Christ is head of the church, He Himself the saviour of the body. As the church is subordinate to Christ, so wives should be subordinate to their husbands in everything. Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ loved the church and handed himself over for her.
Jesus seriously requires such subordination, such commitment, on the part of His disciples, as you heard in the Gospel reading:
It is the spirit that gives life, while the flesh is of no avail. The words I have spoken to you are spirit and life. But there are some of you who do not believe.” Jesus knew from the beginning the ones who would not believe and the one who would betray Him. As a result of this, many (of) His disciples returned to their former way of life and no longer accompanied Him. Jesus then said to the Twelve, “Do you also want to leave?”
Jesus would have none of those disciples who claim the right to re-negotiate, so to speak, their allegiance to Him if any unforeseen difficulty should arise to trouble them as a result of His teaching or in the course of His leading. Their commitment had to be total:
Simon Peter answered him, “Master, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and are convinced that You are the Holy One of God.”
For His part, as St. John tells us:
Jesus knew, before the feast of Passover, that His hour had come to pass from this world to the Father. He loved His own in the world and He loved them to the end. (John 13:1)
Such was the commitment and love St. Paul also expressly recommended to his converts entering marriage by those words:
Be subordinate to one another out of reverence for Christ.
How sad is it not that these days an alternative, shortened, second reading is offered, needs to be offered, today for some who want to give only a limited, personally approved, hearing to Gospel teaching? Yes, St. Paul was a truly selfless and totally committed -- mind and heart, body and soul -- disciple of Christ; and his writings are a loving presentation of His Lord’s Gospel to the proud and pagan world whose descendants are still with us and, in a certain measure, still among us!
Of course, those who choose to flee all binding commitments, be they religious or personal, say that we do not know what the future will bring; and how therefore, can we, at any given time, reasonably commit ourselves to some way of life or mode of conduct by accepting now responsibilities that later on may bring unwanted pressures. They argue that no one can reasonably be expected to pledge themselves to some present relationship that will not allow them to take advantage of future opportunities that may arise. We need to be able to avoid, or at least free ourselves from, future difficulties, and take full advantage of future possibilities.
To all that worldly selfishness and revolutionary rationality, the Catholic proclaims: I live by Faith in Jesus Christ the only-begotten Son of God become, for us men and by the power of the Holy Spirit, Son of Man; in His one and holy Body, which is Mother Church on earth, I live and love by His Gift of her teaching and sacraments.
The future is not, for us Christians, something totally dark, hidden, and unknowable. We believe in God, a God Who is good, and has created us -- personally and individually -- for a purpose and with a future. We believe that human beings, made in the image and likeness of God, are called to guide their lives towards a goal being offered them by God; a goal promised most surely, and revealed -- though darkly as yet, and as in a mirror -- to all believers in Jesus; for whom, indeed, it is a goal even now being gradually effected and brought to fulfilment in us, with us, and for us, by the Holy Spirit. In other words, we Christians and Catholics believe that the future is more than sufficiently knowable, it is supremely desirable, and ultimately attainable for all who believe in Jesus and are willing to commit themselves in faith and trust to His promises and to the guidance of the Spirit He has bequeathed us in the Church He has given us. And this attitude of self-commitment is so essential to Christianity that we believers have been given, as our mother, she of who it was said:
Blessed is she who believed, for there will be a fulfilment of those things which were told her from the Lord. (Luke 1:45)
In our Gospel reading we heard that when the Jews rejected Jesus’ teaching on the Eucharist, He then, as if to confirm His teaching, went on to say:
What then if you should see the Son of Man ascend where He was before?
There we can see how sure is the foundation on which our faith, our love and our commitment, is based. Jesus is able to speak of the future, of the heavenly future prepared for and awaiting us, because He himself originally came from there, and has, as His words foreshadowed, ascended back again to receive as Son of Man that glory which already belonged to Him as Son of God living for all eternity in the presence of His heavenly Father. His words, therefore, are not to be assessed as are the words of ordinary men who do not, indeed cannot, know what the future holds: they speak of a future which is ahead of them in time …. a future of as yet some unknown number of days, months, or years ahead of them but which will find them, and perhaps surprise them, still firmly rooted in this earthly state … they speak of an earthly future only.
We Catholics and Christian disciples of Jesus, however, believe that such an earthly and temporary future is but a preparation for the real future which is on offer to mankind and is promised to the believers in Jesus’ Good News, a future not without earthly consequences, but one that will ultimately bear full fruit in an eternity of Heavenly fulfilment or a Hell of loss and punishment according to our preferences and choices made on earth.
Since Jesus has ascended to heaven in the glory of the Spirit, His words, which are still living and life-giving among us, are, consequently, no ordinary words but spiritual words:
It is the spirit that gives life, while the flesh is of no avail. The words I have spoken to you are spirit and life.
People of God, in the first reading Joshua put clearly before the Israelites a choice they had to make; and we are in a like situation today. For, in our society, Christianity can easily be subjected to public derision, while the Catholic Church is, not infrequently, hated. We are urged to choose a life more commonly acceptable, one which, because of some retained Christian aspects, is regarded as a good and praiseworthy life: for example, a life lived for personal family and friends, for children and the poor, even for the world’s underprivileged. However, such a sort of life can remain deeply selfish, answering to no higher authority than ‘sincere self’, envisaging no eternal future or hopes for eternal blessedness with One greater than self. Consequently, it can be a life weakened and disfigured by lack of commitment to any values that might obstruct its steady course towards present success, accompanied by public approbation and, perhaps above all, self-approval; a life which, more frequently these days, may be sealed by nothing better than a personally chosen ‘shuffling off this mortal coil’ in suicide.
Our Christian faith and Mother Church, on the other hand, call us to a life of greater personal commitment: a life of willing subjection of self initially to one other than self, in view of One infinitely greater than self; a subjection, a commitment, a devotion, recognizing and answering to the God Who is present and to be found in all and yet transcends all; and ultimately a commitment of self to God Himself in and through His Son, Jesus of Nazareth, the Christ Who now lives eternally with His Father in heaven and -- by His Spirit -- with us and for us in His Church to the end of time. Our Christian faith and Mother Church urge us to a life of commitment, to a selflessness before our God and Saviour, which, by a process of spiritual osmosis, will inevitably show itself in the ordinary things of our everyday lives: in marital love and commitment, sincere and lasting friendship, unfeigned neighbourliness, and penetrating down even to our most mundane social obligations, such as doing an honest day’s work and living as good and responsible citizens.
In making life’s choices, we must never forget the truth expressed in the words of Joshua:
If it does not please you to serve the Lord, decide today whom you will serve, the gods which your fathers served beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose country you are now dwelling. As for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.
Whatever we choose, we will always be servants, because that is our nature. If, however, we make the right choice, we can serve the Lord Who is so good that He intends, after our faithful service here on earth, to give us a share with Him in His heavenly lordship and glory. His word is true, His promise is sure, and His Way is straight; in all our needs His Spirit will be with us, and for all our endeavours the Father Who now awaits us will embrace and reward us as His adopted children in Christ Jesus our Lord.