Seeking for Divine Nourishment: 21st Sunday
Sermon by Emmanuel Suntheni OSB –
SERMON AND CHRISTIAN ACT IN THE WORD
Theme: Seeking for Divine Nourishment: The Time is now! Let us live in Christ.
Point of reflection: The time is now! Have I already found my Divine Nourishment? The readings of today direct the Christian faithful to seek Divine Nourishment. For Christians, this Divine Nourishment can only be found in Jesus Christ.
First Reading: Joshua 24:1–2, 15–18
Psalm: Psalm 34:2–3, 16–21
Second Reading: Ephesians 5:21–32
Gospel: John 6:60–69
Sermon (Reflection): Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have to look for divine nourishment in our Christian daily living. According to today’s readings, this nourishment lies in trusting God enough to place oneself under his loving authority.
Being under the authority of God means that we do not bow down to any man-made god, we do not become slaves to anything such as alcohol, drugs, sex, money, or power. These things give us momentary illusions of greatness and security.
In fact, they enslave us and take away our ability to control the direction of our lives. As Christians, we are reminded today to constantly seek Divine Nourishment and this Divine Nourishment is not found in worldly attachments like money, drug, alcohol, sex or power but is found only in Christ.
The Scriptural readings of today elucidate the seeking of Divine Nourishment. The first reading shows the Israelites at the beginning of their life in the Promised Land; their long desert journey and the struggle of the conquest of this land have been completed. Addressing the people at this turning point of history, Joshua looks at the nation’s distant past and its founder, Abraham, acknowledging that he was originally a worshiper of pagan gods.
Contextually, in the First Scriptural reading, Joshua asks for a decision intended to clarify the peoples’ identity and loyalty – Who do they want to serve? Spurred by the example of their leader, and memories of Exodus, the Israelites unequivocally declare loyalty to their God.
Their choice implies that they will adhere to and honour their God, and rely on him who saved them from destruction in Egypt and sustained them during the long years of their desert sojourn. Their nourishment and sustenance, as a nation, was to be loyal and obedient to the one God, who had proven himself loyal to them throughout their long and difficult history.
The question to us as Christians is that, whom do we want to serve and be loyal to? Jesus Christ or money or worldly power?
Today’s Gospel passage contains the conclusion of the Johannine “bread of life” discourse. Jesus Christ taught that union with Him is not a matter of eating bread and speaking words, but of offering one’s self in self-sacrificial service to others.
The people who heard and finally understood what Jesus meant by “eating his body and drinking his blood” judged his demands and message as too strange and too difficult to accept. Thus, many of his would-be disciples “complained” because they had hoped for, and expected, an easier and less demanding form of following and imitating him.
As Christians, do we believe in Jesus Christ? Or do we always complain about others and even God? Today, we need to confirm our trust in Jesus Christ and live a virtuous life.
To confirm the truthfulness of His words, Jesus speaks of his ascent to heaven, whence He came. He descended from heaven with a revelation and teaching that can be trusted, because it comes from God himself.
His resurrection and return to the heavenly world will provide the ultimate confirmation that his words and teaching are true, they are “spirit and life”. His words are spirit in the sense that they offer spiritual guidance, they are life because their implementation leads to eternal life. To hear the words of Jesus, and to have a chance to respond to them, is God’s grace, but a grace that needs acceptance and response.
Judas chose to refuse this offer of grace, as did many other disciples, who abandoned Jesus at this point, unable or unwilling to accept the implications of consuming Jesus’ body and blood.
As Christians, to who are we to abide? The twelve decided to remain and “abide” in Jesus. Peter, on behalf of the group, explained the reason for their choice. They understood that eternal life can only be attained by following Jesus and his teaching on the Eucharist as sacrificial love. Jesus, in the words of Peter, “has the words of eternal life”.
They also accepted that Jesus came from God as the “Holy One”, which implies that his words have divine authority and can be trusted. The twelve made a difficult but right, life-giving choice. Have I made a choice as a Christian today?
Choose Christ and you will never be disappointed but if you choose worldly things like semi-gods, you will be disappointed.
In the second Scriptural reading, the author of Ephesians continues to discuss Christian identity, this time with particular attention to family life. Greco-Roman society was organised according to a rigid patriarchal structure.
The man was the head of the household and held absolute authority over all its members. All were accountable to him, while he was accountable to no one. The notion of equality was virtually non-existent in the system, and little or no attention was paid to the dignity and rights of women.
Today’s passage has been viewed by some misinformed Christians as supporting and legitimising this unjust, ancient, patriarchal structure. In fact, the exact opposite is true as the author of the letter challenges and undermines the very foundation of the patriarchal system.
In a society where wives were counted as the husband’s property, the words of today’s text resounded with a revolutionary tone. Yes, the author upholds the authority of the husband over the wife, but not because it is the husband’s right. Rather, the wife accepts the husband’s authority on religious grounds, out of “reverence for the Lord”.
This arrangement follows the logic of the relationship between Christ and the Church. Christ is the head of the Church and has authority over it, but he is also its saviour. How did Christ become the saviour? He did so by offering himself, his very life, for the Church.
Here lies the revolutionary element in this teaching. The husband, who had no formal obligations towards the wife, is now obliged to show the same love for the wife as the self-sacrificial Christ showed to the Church.
Such demand represents a very different understanding of the marital relationship. The husband is obliged to exercise his authority through self-sacrificial love that resembles that of Christ, in fact, he is obliged to become a servant of the wife.
How do you treat your wife? How do you treat your husband? Love is the way for the husband to exercise his authority. The wife ought to respond to the husband’s attentive love through loyalty and commitment, thus manifesting her love.
They nourish each other in the same way that Christ nourishes his Church through his love, manifested on the cross, and continuing sustenance and guidance.
Christian Act in Word of God: “I choose Jesus for my daily nourishment”
Today’s liturgy of the word concludes the five-Sunday(s) long sequence of Scriptural readings with a motivating appeal to make a choice. Like the Israelites at Shechem, who had to choose between the living God and imagined gods, Christians must decide for or against abiding with Jesus through the Eucharist. This also implies a decision whether they are willing to live out the same self-sacrificing love as he did. If chosen, that love compels them to adjust their lifestyle accordingly.
Such a demand of turning to love in place of tyrannical authority was issued to the husbands in the Ephesian community, in defiance of the social norms and practices of their time. Those who decide for Jesus and his ways as their nourishment for life, would be right to claim with the Psalmist, “my soul makes its boast in the Lord; let the humble hear and be glad.”
Many of us treat changes and challenges as threats. We fear change because it demands that we stretch ourselves and adopt to new situations. This requires considerable effort and, frequently, is painful.
In all three of today’s readings, people had to change and adapt to something entirely new. For some of them, this became an obstacle that led to a falling away from God.
Many disciples of Jesus abandoned him, and many of the Ephesian men did not join the Church when they heard that they must love their wives with Christ-like love. Learning from their example we must avoid making the same mistakes. Every change and challenge, as difficult as it may be, offers new possibilities.
It is good to think here of those who suffer from debilitating illnesses and disabilities. Some of them fall into bitterness and despair. Others become great athletes and participate in the Paralympic games, they become champions.
For some people, sinking into the depths of alcoholism and drug abuse results in death. But some rebound from the edge of darkness and become new people, radiating life and saving others by sharing their experiences.
Some of us come close to losing faith when confronted with the death of a loved one. We feel that God has let us down. While nothing can take the pain and the sense of loss away, these tragic circumstances force us to take a new direction in our lives. Our new direction as Christians must be choosing Jesus Christ: Jesus Christ will never disappoint you.
Action: From toast, I will choose Christ and be loyal to Christ and live by Christ.
Prayer: Dear God, make me choose Your Son Jesus Christ first in all things, and help me always to live in Jesus loving presence. Strengthen me in faith, as I journey through life, and help me always to seek the right nourishment, which only you and your Son Jesus Christ can provide. Help me to live a happy and blessed Christian life, grant this through your Son Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with you forever and ever, Amen.