Weekly Reflection (22 Aug 2021)

21st Sunday Year B

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

Have I abandoned God in the midst of glitters and challenges?

My brothers and sisters, we have come to the final week of our five-week reflection on the Holy Eucharist. In the last five weeks, we reflected on the gifts we bring to Jesus; and our motivation and expectations as bringing forth those gifts. Last week, we reflected how Jesus transforms and completes our gifts, regifting them to us as His Body and His Blood in the Holy Eucharist. We reflected on the question: When I encounter Jesus in this way, am I marvelled? Am I transformed?

The truth is, while many presents themselves at the Eucharistic table at mass, not all are marvelled, not all are transformed. This is particularly true for those of us who are nominal Christians. We may come to church every week, we may occasionally give away some spare change to the needy, we may even help out as volunteers in various church ministries. But let us asked ourselves: Am I intimate with Jesus? Do I marvel at Jesus and say, “My Lord and my God!” (Jn 20:28) Do I regularly read and meditate on the Word of God? Do I consciously try to imitate Jesus in my life – in His love, His compassion and His mercy?

The First Reading recalls a scene at the Holy Land, where after years of war, an aging Joshua gathered the people to impart his wisdom upon them. In the passage, Joshua asked the people to choose between the Lord God and the pagan gods (verse 15). “Then the people answered, ‘Far be it from us that we should forsake the Lord to serve other gods; for it is the Lord our God who brought us and our ancestors up from the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery, and who did those great signs in our sight. He protected us along all the way that we went, and among all the peoples through whom we passed; and the Lord drove out before us all the peoples, the Amorites who lived in the land. Therefore we also will serve the Lord, for he is our God.’” (verse 16-18) The people recalled how God brought them out of slavery in Egypt, fed them in the desert, defeated their enemies and delivered them the Promise Land. In truth, who among us would not pledge allegiance to God when He delivers us such safety and prosperity? Sadly, for the people, these are only lip services. For not long after the death of Joshua, the people abandoned God and started worshipping other gods (Judg 2:11-12). What about us? At church each week, we too proclaim the Lord as our God. But are our hearts with God? As soon as something more glittering comes along, or when things become challenging, do we abandon God? In truth, we often do. At least for the Israelites at Joshua’s time, they did it over one generation.

At the start of our five-week discourse, we read how Jesus miraculously fed 5000 people with five loaves and two fishes (Jn 6:1-14). Fed and satisfied, the people pursued Jesus relentlessly and found Him on the shore of Capernaum (Jn 6:22-24). There, Jesus challenged them with His teaching on the Eucharist. Jesus declared Himself as “the living bread that came down from heaven” (Jn 6:51); and if the people want eternal life, they must eat His flesh and drink His blood. And to make sure He was not misunderstood, Jesus repeated this several times (verse 51, 53, 54, 56, 57, 58). This became too much for the people, they said in this week’s Gospel, “This teaching is difficult; who can accept it?” (verse 60), to which Jesus responded, “Does this offend you?” (verse 61) That day, many of the disciples found Jesus’ teaching so hard that they left Him (verse 66). Though all the Apostles stayed, but even for them, the teaching was so challenging that it sowed the seed of Judas’ betrayal (verse 64).

The Israelites abandoned God when living conditions got tough in the desert. They abandoned God when the pagan gods look more attractive. The disciples abandon Jesus when His teachings become too challenging. My brothers and sisters, what about us? What are the glitters and challenges in our life that cause us to abandon God? We ask ourselves: Have I allowed my career, my sports and even my hobbies to take priority over God? If so, I have in fact abandoned God and erected materialism and secularism as my gods. When I serve in church ministries, do I draw glory to myself rather than to God? If so, I have in fact abandoned God and erected myself as my own god. Motivated by my own pride and self-interest, do I undermine another brother- or sister-in-Christ? If so, I have in fact abandoned God and erected pride and self-interest as my gods. When I am hurt, do I bear grudges and vengeance? Has Christ’s example of love, compassion and mercy become too hard for me to emulate? If so, even as I continue to serve God with my lip services, like Judas, have I in fact allowed my human weaknesses to sow the seed of my betrayal of Jesus?

In the Second Reading, St Paul spoke about what constitutes an ideal marriage in his times. It is true that with the changing roles of the husband and the wife in the modern family, some of St Paul’s stipulations may not apply to some of our families. However, we need to pay special attention to the underlying message of St Paul. For this is how St Paul concluded: “This is a great mystery, and I am applying it to Christ and the church.” (verse 32) In other words, the role of the husband personifies Jesus, the role of the wife personifies us His Church (verse 23). St Paul explains, “Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, in order to make her holy by cleansing her with the washing of water by the word” (verse 25-26). In return, we the people are called to subject in everything to Jesus (verse 24).

The Eucharistic discourse over the past five weeks prompt us to re-examine our relationship with Jesus through the Eucharist. The Eucharist is an offer of intimacy from Jesus to us: “Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them.” (Jn 6:56) But have we rejected Jesus? Some of us have lost the Eucharistic amazement and do not receive the Eucharist very often. Some of us, while receiving the Eucharist regularly, do it in a perfunctory manner. The Eucharist, like any Sacraments, presupposes faith. For a Sacrament to have its desired effect on our life, we must first have faith. Only then is our heart open to Jesus when we receive the Sacrament.

In humility and docility, let us open our hearts to Jesus. As St Paul commanded us, let us subject in everything to Him. Amen.

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