30 August 2012
"As for me and my household, we will serve the LORD"
Twenty-First Sunday in Ordinary Time
I think that people generally like to be the best or the biggest. We like the ability to quantify groups, teams, positions to see if we are the biggest or doing the best. For example: we rejoice that MSU Men’s Basketball has made it to the NCAA tournament for 15 consecutive years under the leadership of Tom Izzo. Politicians, especially in this election year, rely on polls to see how many people agree with their position, and if they need to tweak or change their position to become more popular. I can even fall into this trap at times. When others ask me how many parishioners we have, I am proud to announce to them that we are the largest parish in the Diocese of Lansing, with 3500 families plus the students who live on campus. Numbers are great, and we can want to pin our futures and actions on those numbers.
But the truly successful in Scripture do not do that. In fact, they tend to throw any quantifiable data out the door and just trust in God. Take Joshua from our first reading: at the end of the campaigns of the Chosen People in the Holy Land, Joshua sets before the Chosen People the choice to be faithful to God or to the pagan gods whom they had just put behind them. Joshua knows the fickle character of the people. He had seen how they rejoiced when they fled the slavery of Egypt, but how they also wanted to go back when things got tough. So Joshua gives them the choice of following the God who had brought them safely from the land of Egypt and had settled them in the Promised Land, or serving their pagan gods, who were no gods at all. “As for me and my household,” Joshua says, “we will serve the LORD.” Joshua decides that a future with God is where he will make his claim, no matter what the others choose to do. He is not concerned about how many join with him.
Jesus also seems to be oblivious to numbers. He had just told the Jews that unless they eat His flesh and drink His blood they will not have life in them. And the Jews are pretty much all disgusted and walk away. The teaching on the Eucharist is too much for them. But Jesus does not run after them, shouting, “Wait! Lemme explain this a little more! I was talking sacramentally!!” Even with his chosen band, the Twelve Apostles, He simply says, “‘Do you also want to leave?’” He doesn’t change his teaching because of low polling results because His teaching is Truth, with a capital T. Jesus has come to reveal the Father and the Father’s love and truth. If people accept it, that would be great! But if they don’t, Jesus still is faithful to the message God the Father gave Him to proclaim.
It is tough not to care about the results. It is tough to be concerned primarily with the Truth. But, if we are to be like Jesus, then that is our call. Our hopes, our futures, cannot be attached to any numbers. We cannot choose Jesus simply because a lot of other people have. We must be personally convicted that Jesus is Lord, and that He founded only one Church that faithfully passes on His message in its entirety, or else the teachings of Jesus will be too hard for us and we, like the Jews, will leave.
Even today, Jesus still teaches difficult things with which our current culture is very uncomfortable. Many people today will say, “What do you mean I have to go to Church every Sunday and Holyday?!? I can worship God wherever I want!”; “I have to get married in a church building if I’m Catholic? But it’s so beautiful on the beach!”; “Marriage is only between one man and one woman for life? How insensitive to those who have same-sex attractions!”; “A male-only priesthood? Don’t you know Augusta just opened up to women members? Get with the times!”; “the Church needs to stay out of my bedroom!” Of course, there are so many more. And yet, the teaching of Jesus through His Church remains firm, and is not based upon public perception.
It takes a lot of faith and trust to care not about public opinion but about truth. It puts us under the order (subordinate) of another. This is what St. Paul tells us in the second reading: “Brothers and sisters,” that is, men and women, “be subordinate to each other out of reverence for Christ.” Not only are we to pin our hopes and futures on Jesus, but we are to live out His life of service towards each other. We are voluntarily to be subordinate to each other, just as Christ was subordinate to God the Father, and the Church is subordinate to Jesus Christ.
When we hear this reading, we may think that this was just a chauvinist writing. But St. Paul calls both men and women to subordinate themselves to the other, especially in marriage, which witnesses the relationship of Jesus with the Church. Of course, the husbands many smile when they hear the line, “Wives should be subordinate to their husbands as to the Lord,” and the women may bristle. But St. Paul also outlines how the husbands are to subordinate themselves to their wives, by telling them to love their wives as Christ does the Church. There was nothing that Jesus would not give for His Bride, the Church. He lowered Himself for her by taking on our human nature; He was constantly at her service; and, in the greatest act of subordination, He gave up His very life and descended to the depths of Hell so that she could live and not have to die. That is certainly subordination on the part of the man.
Every day we have the choice: do we follow the teaching that is most popular? Do we join the ecclesial community that has the biggest following? Or do we receive the Scriptures, “not [as] a human word, but, as it truly is, the word of God,” as St. Paul says? Whether it’s the teaching on the Eucharist, or marriage, or sexual morality, or whatever, Jesus, even today through His Church, teaches us the Truth that the Father has given Him. And Jesus asks us, “‘Do you also want to leave?’” May our answer be the same as St. Peter: “‘Master, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and are convinced that you are the Holy One of God.’”