Choose whom you wish to serve

Choose whom you wish to serve

Twenty-First Sunday of the Year. Fr Rudolf Loewenstein preaches on the choice presented to the peoples of the times of Joshua and Jesus.

In our lives today we have many needs, and although our needs may change over time, there will always be, among other things, the basic necessities of food and clothing. Beyond that, different people have different priorities, and varied ways of achieving what they want.

Money is often necessary for what we want — we need it to buy food, to obtain clothes or fuel to keep us warm, and so on. But what about other needs such as companionship, love, or friendship? None of these are free, although they may be easier for some people to attain than others. And once attained, they must be worked at in order to last or stay valuable.

Take what St Paul says in today’s second reading. He has often been quoted out of context in order for husbands to have an easy time of it, but if we read the whole passage so that his advice is put in context, we see that he is offering a powerful recipe for married life that will benefit both man and woman. And although his words seem to be prescriptive, offering little room for manoeuvre, if followed they do allow for a great freedom within the marital relationship.

We can compare this reading with the first reading. Here the choice is more stark — either follow the Lord, or do not follow him. And it is the people’s response that shows us not just what to do, but that they understand the all implications of following the Lord.

Many years after the time of our first reading, when Joshua had spoken to the people, Jesus is presenting his followers with much the same question, although couched in different words. They can either accept what he says and follow him, or they can leave him. And once again, a reply is quoted that shows that someone who had listened to Jesus intended to follow him.

Different words, different time, different context — but still there is an invitation or choice presented, and there is a reply. The person who replies may not always know or understand fully what is being taken on when the message is accepted, but that is not necessarily the point of the passage set for today’s Mass.

Perhaps we are being invited not just to accept the challenge or message that Christ gives us, but to accept it with our whole hearts and souls. We may be led into ways and paths that we know not; we may be brokenhearted or endure distress along the way (we need only to look at the rest of the history of the tribes of Israel or of what happened to Simon Peter), but in the end we know that once we have tasted and seen that the Lord is good, accepting his challenge is the only thing we can do.

And if we need any further proof or justification that our journey will end ultimately with the Lord, we have the words of today’s psalm to enlighten us:

The Lord ransoms the souls of his servants. Those who hide in him shall not be condemned.

Readings: Josh 24:1-2,15-18 | Eph 5:21-32 | John 6:60-69

fr. Rudolf Loewenstein teaches at St Christina's School in St John's Wood.