Saint Mary of the Angels homilies and reflections

Homily, August 26, 2012, Twenty First Sunday, Ord Time, "Who are you serving?"Fr. Dick Clifford, SJ



Perhaps each one of us at one time or other has expressed this wish: Let’s all gather together and set goals for ourselves and develop procedures for working together. Let’s discuss what make our community distinctive and different from other communities. Alas, it usually remains just a wish. It’s almost impossible to get everyone together at the same time and even more difficult to arrive at consensus regarding goals and procedures.

Well, this almost-impossible-to-realize scenario actually took place according to the first reading from the Old Testament book of Joshua! The people have experienced the greatest event in their history. The Lord has defeated the Pharaoh who enslaved and terrorized them, and brought them out into the free and open space at the foot of Mt. Sinai. There the Lord gave them a leader (Moses), a land to call their own (Canaan), a temple/tabernacle, and wise laws that enable them to live productive and blessed lives. And now, a few months later, they are standing in the land of Canaan that was just given to them as a gift.

How will they respond to this great privilege. Joshua, the successor of Moses as leader of the people, assembles the twelve tribes in the person of their leaders. And he tells them they have to make a decision: “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 dwelling.

As for me and my household, we will serve the LORD.” He could not put it in stronger terms. In that period, nearly everyone worshiped several gods. Serving one god exclusively was virtually unknown at that time with the sole exception of the Israelites. Joshua asked a real question and he put his body on the line. He and his family would continue to serve the Lord even if the people did not. The people could have gone in either direction. But finally the people answered, "Far be it from us to forsake the LORD for the service of other gods.” They recognized that “it was the LORD, our God, who brought us and our fathers up out of the land of Egypt, out of a state of slavery. He performed those great miracles before our very eyes and protected us along our entire journey and among all the peoples through whom we passed.”

And Joshua tells us why he chooses to serve the Lord? Because he knows from experience how the Lord has “saved” him in the sense of protecting and blessing him and his family. For him, there is only one God who acts, who has the power to save. No other god can do this. And because Joshua sees life this way and states his belief so eloquently, his people do also. They are impressed with his example and reminded of how much the Lord has done for them.

What is the takeaway here? Joshua looks back at recent events in his own life and in the people’s life and draws the conclusions that the Lord has rescued the people and chosen him to act on their behalf. His good example prompts the people to do the same thing. But we can imagine that some who heard him that day did not follow his example. As Joshua says, they could have “served the gods of the Amorites in whose country you are now dwelling.”

The example of Joshua and the people enable us to understand the Gospel of John. During the last few weeks, we have been listening to ch. 6 of John in which Jesus as Wisdom invites all people to his banquet. In the book of Proverbs, Woman Wisdom gives a banquet and invites all who thirst for wisdom to come and enjoy life in her house. As the chapter in John’s Gospel unfolds, the banquet of life that Jesus gives becomes the Eucharistic gathering in which Jesus gives his very self, his body and blood, as nourishment to his friends.

But, like Joshua’s challenge to the people of Israel after they had experienced salvation, our challenge is to believe in the Eucharist. There are alternatives. We could do what many do, that is, to “serve the gods of . . . in whose country we are now dwelling.” Simply take on board what our American culture thinks is smart and rewarding. Many of Jesus’ hearers took that route. They found that “the saying is hard. Who can accept it?”

The question for us is: what does it mean to serve Jesus, Divine Wisdom, who invites us to the banquet, and Jesus, who gives us his very self in the Eucharist. It invites us to experience him in this  community. We begin the Eucharist by turning toward Him and turning away from false gods and our false self at the very first act of the mass. Then we hear the readings, and when we really hear them and let them rest in our hearts, we receive holy wisdom. (That means perhaps that we should read them ahead of time and again during the week so they make an impression.) As we go on further in the mass, Jesus takes the simple bread and wine of our lives and folds them into his own self-offering.

Finally, he gives us his very self in his body and blood which we all share, as is proper in a good banquet.

Of course we can find Jesus anywhere–in poor people, in personal prayer in our work, and the endless details that make up our lives–but we find him most dramatically in the Eucharist.

We can end these reflections with a prayer:

In every age, O God, you give your people freedom to walk in faith or turn away. Grant us grace to remain faithful to your Holy One, Whose words are spirit and life, Jesus Christ our Lord.

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