Our Theme for this week includes these words: “[Jesus] alone offers us the word of eternal life, and the love that makes life worth living. Let us cling to him with a strong decision of faith! Let us faithfully and wholeheartedly follow him and serve him with our lives.”
Too often we drift through our days, doing and saying things without much thought. We react to whatever events and people come to us through the day according to how we happen to feel at the moment, on impulse. The readings today challenge us to “wake up,” to make a conscious decision about how we are living our life. Note the words in the Theme: Jesus alone has the words of life. That means no one else does. We are to make a strong decision of faith. This is not a fleeting impulse acted on in a moment, but a firm commitment followed through over time. We are to follow Jesus wholeheartedly. There is no room for compromise or duplicity.
This is the kind of firm decision which Joshua challenges the people of Israel to make. He tells them, “If it does not please you to serve the LORD, decide today whom you will serve, the gods 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.” The reading is taken from a longer passage in which Joshua is giving his final instructions to the people before he dies. Throughout the passage he reminds the people repeatedly that they must decide which gods they will serve, and that their decision will have life and death consequences. He makes it clear that serving God will not be easy, but that God has always been faithful to them and has protected and provided for them.
In an earlier section of Joshua’s last words, he said this to the people: “Be strong and be careful to observe all that is written in the book of the law of Moses, never turning from it right or left, or mingling with these nations that survive among you. You must not invoke their gods by name, or swear by them, or serve them, or bow down to them, but you must hold fast to the LORD, your God, as you have done up to this day” (Jos 23:6-8).
The “gods” which are popular in our time are usually not carved idols but rather wealth, pleasure, fame, power, etc. If we remain aware of this, we can see that the words of Joshua are every bit as meaningful for us today as they were to the Israelites of his time. We must decide which “god” we will serve, either the “gods” of our secular culture or the Lord. If we decide to serve the Lord, then we must not “mingle” with the “nations” around us, which means we must not accept their ways of thinking and evaluating things and mingle these with what we hear from the Lord. We must not serve or bow down to the idols of our present age in any way, at any time, but must hold fast to the word of the Lord.
Anyone who ponders daily on the Lord’s words to us in Scripture knows that they are not always easy to understand or to follow. God’s ways are not our ways, and often we must change the way we look at things so that we can see them as God sees them. We find an example of this in the Gospel for today. Jesus has just finished telling his followers that they must eat his flesh and drink his blood if they are to have eternal life. This kind of talk is difficult for anyone to accept! The idea of eating human flesh is extremely repugnant. Eat his flesh and drink his blood? It was too much for many of his disciples to accept. Only Peter and a few others continue to follow him. Even though they cannot fully understand all that he said, they have a firm conviction in faith that Jesus has the words of eternal life, and he is the Holy One of God.
The second reading also challenges us with a “hard saying.” To many people, it seems to put wives in a lower place than their husbands. In truth it is a hard saying not only for wives but for husbands as well. It teaches us that both husbands and wives must take on the mind and heart of Christ. The husband is to love his wife as Christ loved the Church. This means that in marriage, husbands must never seek their own good first. Christ came, not to be served but to serve, and to give his life in ransom for his people (cf. Mt 20:28). If a husband is truly living out his calling, he will serve his wife and family in love, and give himself always for their good. His wife in turn will want to do the same, never seeking first her own advantage but looking only to give herself in love for her husband and her family.
We are given a clear choice today. The Lord teaches us through his word to give ourselves in love to God and to our brothers and sisters, even as he did. This is hard for our fallen nature, but it is the only way to real life. We do not live out this choice on our own power. As Pope Francis assures us in the Spiritual Reflection, we have the Holy Spirit to sustain us, “who constantly breathes new life into our world, into our hearts, into our families, into our homes and parishes.” On the other hand, the “word” of the world teaches us to be self-centered, and to worship the “gods” of pleasure, comfort, power, wealth and fame. These seem easier and more attractive to our fallen nature, but they ultimately lead to ruin and death. Joshua warns us sternly today: make a decision between these two alternatives. Do not try to mingle them and serve each a little bit. Decide today whom you will serve!
Let us make a firm decision to serve only and always the Lord. Then we can take to ourselves the beautiful words of today’s Psalm: “I will bless the LORD at all times; his praise shall be ever in my mouth. Let my soul glory in the LORD.”
Knowing that Jesus alone has the words of life, in what ways do I compromise this truth in my life? What are the idols in my life that I serve and bow down to? What things in my life make it difficult to give myself to God and to others?
Excerpt from The Anawim Way, Volume 17, no. 6. More information about The Anawim Way may be found here.