How many decisions do we make each day? Most are ordinary, just
part of our daily routine: What shall I have for breakfast? Shall I
have an egg? What time shall I go to bed? Will I watch television
tonight… go online… or read? Others, not as frequent, require
deliberation and are more consequential: What kind of work will I
do? Which school will I attend? With whom will I form a friendship,
or enter into a lasting relationship? These are decisions similar to
the ones today’s readings challenge us to make: they call for
commitment. They are not choices we are forced to make out of fear
or punishment. But what we choose will affect our whole lives – how
we view the world. They will also guide us in our makeing
life-directing decisions. Today’s readings ask us: whether we will
continue to choose, or not choose God, as we face the new challenges
life puts before us.
In our first reading Moses’ successor, Joshua, is now the leader
of the people. We are at the close of the Book of Joshua and the
people are ending their 40 year desert journey. They are about to
enter Canaan, where they will not only meet opposition, but their
allegiance to God will be tempted by the new difficulties and false
gods they will encounter. Before they cross over Joshua addresses
them. The setting is important, Shechem was the place of the shrine
Abraham visited (Genesis 12:ff). It also may have been the place
where, for a time, the ark of the covenant was housed. It is the
appropriate place for Joshua to call the people to renew their
covenant with God.
Before he asks for the people’s commitment, Joshua reminds them
what God has done for them: "For 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." God chose the enslaved people, freed them from bondage and
cared for them for the 40 years they traveled across the desert.
When Moses first went to the people, he invited them to trust God
and follow him out of slavery into the desert. It was a turning
point – a moment of decision. Now, Joshua invites them to renew
their commitment. Once again they are at a turning point; once again
they are invited to choose God. Based on what? Based on what God has
done for them in their past. In case they have forgotten, or are
hesitant, Joshua reminds them of who their God is and what God has
already done for them. He is assuring them that God will continue to
be their protector and deliverer in this new moment of the
Not all of life’s turning points lead to something better.
Sometimes we are faced with a moment of crisis – a death, collapse
of our life’s project, rupture in a relationship, family
disruptions, etc. At these moments it is as if Joshua is standing
before us saying what he said to the Israelites at a crucial moment
in their history – Remember God’s faithfulness in your past
difficult moments; when your strength was not enough to see you
through. Remember how God was with you each step of that difficult
journey. Drawing on that memory can you once again trust in "the God
of our ancestors" to sustain and enlighten you each new step you
must take? The God of the Covenant, your Deliverer and Protector,
Joshua proclaims, was and still is, your faithful God.
Drawing on our past experience of God we do our best to profess,
as Joshua did: "As for me and my household we will serve the Lord."
Parents, like Joshua, are called to be the prophetic leaders of
their "household"; called to guide their families in commitment to
God’s ways. That seems more difficult these days, as fewer of our
children profess the faith we, who gather in worship, profess today.
Should we invite Joshua to join us in prayer for those we parent,
teach in religion classes and also in our classes at school? God is
loyal to us, Joshua assures, and we pray today to be faithful to the
God Joshua and Jesus reveal to us.
This summer we have been hearing readings from John 6, which
began with the multiplication of the loaves and fish. In the "Bread
of Life Discourse" following the miracle, Jesus has been teaching
its significance for our faith. Today his teaching comes to a close,
next week we return to Mark, our gospel for this liturgical year.
Jesus’ disciples were no different than the Israelites crossing
the desert. When times were difficult they also murmured against
God. The Israelites complained about the stress of their long desert
travel. Jesus’ disciples murmured about what he had just said to
them, after he multiplied bread for the crowds.
Today we are at a turning point in Jesus’ ministry. As he ends
his discourse he asks his disciples for a decision: will they accept
the bread he is offering them – his teaching and his very self? They
have eaten the bread he fed them and, just as Joshua asked faith
from the gathered tribes at Shechem, Jesus asks his disciples to
profess faith in him. Will they accept what he has taught them and
accept him, the bread of life?
Jesus is forthright with his disciples. He is inviting a faith
that will encourage them to draw near to him, faith not in the
wonders he performs, but in himself, the life he has shown in the
signs he has performed. What was it that turned many of his
followers away? Was it the hard saying that they must eat his flesh
and drink his blood? Or, was it what he said about participating in
the death he was about to undergo himself? Either was hard for them
to grasp and accept.
Jesus reminded them and us what makes our faith possible, who is
the Source that enables us to follow him. "No one can come to me
unless it is granted by my Father." Peter’s faith will falter; like
ours does when it is tested. But after hearing Jesus’ challenging
words, Peter does not turn away. He may not understand the
consequences of saying "Yes" to Jesus, but he believes in the one he
has come to love and will continue to follow him.
Today, at our Eucharistic celebration, Jesus is again teaching
and encouraging us to accept and follow him. Then, he gives us the
gift of real food and drink – his very self. Joshua’s words echo in
the discussion between Jesus and his disciples: "Decide today, who
will you follow." When we eat and drink the meal offered us at this
Eucharist do we realize the choice Jesus gave his disciples is also
put before us? But the very fact we come forward to eat and drink is
a sign of the Spirit’s life in us and that Spirit will enable us to
profess what Peter did, "To whom shall we go? You have the words of
eternal life. We have come to believe that you are the Holy One of
for a link to this Sunday’s readings: