“Lord, to whom can we go?” (Jn 6:69)

by Susanna Mak
Twenty-first Sunday in Ordinary Time

Joshua 24:1-2A, 15-17, 18B

Ephesians 5:21 - 32

John 6:60 - 69

I have to admit that the past year had been tumultuous. Frustrated by professional and personal situations, and my inability to fix everything and everyone; coupling with a growing sense of discontentment and restlessness, I have often found myself chasing after one invisible enemy after another; battling even my own shadow! Obviously, all my efforts had been futile; however, without these struggles, I would have never arrived at a place of genuine trust and peace.

In this week’s readings, we are asked to make some difficult choices: truth versus falsehood; faithfulness versus betrayal. In short, we are challenged to trust and choose God above all even amidst adversities and turmoil every single day. Both Joshua and the Psalmist have offered compelling logic for choosing the one true God; the ever faithful and merciful God of their ancestors. In the Gospel of John, Jesus echoes Joshua’s sentiments that choosing God is not easy; however, His words are “spirit and life” (Jn 6:63). In the second reading, Saint Paul explains the implications of choosing God and how this choice permeates every aspect of our daily life.

In the first reading, when Joshua gives the “tribes of Israel” an ultimatum, “choose this day whom you will serve”, he is asking the people to choose truth over falsehood: to serve the Lord or the false gods their ancestors worshipped in Egypt and Syria (ref. Jos 24:15). It seems to be easier for the Israelites to turn their backs to Yahweh and continue their practices since that implies the status quo. However, in remembering how God has “brought [them] and [their] ancestors up from the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery” and journeyed with them even when they abandoned Him during their long journey in the desert, the Israelites recognize God’s faithfulness and mercy during one of the most trying periods in their history, they choose to return and place their trust in the one true God (Jos 24:15,17). Thank goodness the Israelites have excellent memories! Similarly, the Psalmist affirms the faithfulness of God: “When the righteous cry for help, the Lord hears and rescues them from all their troubles” (Ps 34:15). Indeed, these Old Testament figures remind us of God’s faithfulness and though it may be easier to choose falsehood, only God can “save the crushed in spirit” and bring peace (Ps 34:18).

Like Joshua, Jesus challenges his disciples to choose the difficult truth: “Very truly, I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you” (Jn 6:53). Some disciples are offended and immediately begin to complain, “This teaching is difficult, who can accept it” (Jn 6:60)? Like Jesus’ disciples, it may be easier for us to go about our everyday busy-ness; continue to do things our own ways and ignore God’s voice; pretend that we can conquer everything on our own. In truth, could we? Jesus holds “the words of eternal life”; His words are “spirit and life” that sustain our whole being (Jn 6:69,63). The Psalmist reminds us to not only “see” God like bystanders, but also “taste” the goodness of God. Contrary to some of Jesus’ disciples, let us be courageous to accept this most precious gift from God, the body and blood of Christ, and proclaim Jesus as “the Holy one of God” (Jn 6:69).

Finally, in the second reading Saint Paul invites us “to be imitators of God, as beloved children” (Eph 5:1). Choosing God; choosing truth and faithfulness, implies working hard every single day as we strive to “be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving one another” (Eph 4:32). Choosing God is hard work, therefore, “be still” (Ps 46:10) and walk with confidence that God is our constant and faithful companion who hears the cry of the righteous (ref. Ps 34:15).

Life’s adversities are, in fact, our opportunities to grow in wisdom and strength. Even John the Baptist and Jesus take their time to mature physically and spiritually under the “favour of God” (ref. Lk 1:80, 2:40). Without these opportunities, how would our spiritual muscles be strengthened and our love and trust in the Lord be fortified? The Psalmist offers a beautiful image of God, “The Lord is near to the broken-hearted, and saves the crushed in spirit” (Ps 34:18). Therefore, during times of doubt or turmoil, “to whom can we go” (Jn 6:69)?