21 Sunday B

Introduction to the Celebration:
Rather than give an introduction, say something like this: We are gathered here as sisters and brothers, members of the Body of Christ, so let us introduce ourselves to each other.
 This dramatic crisis in John’s account of the life of Jesus (and probably in the life of his own community) as it is reflected by and reflects the Joshua story in the first reading is about faith, as are the stories in the other August Gospels. 
 It is easy to slip into the conviction that one “has” the faith until times of crisis and challenge come along – tragedy, suffering, and death.
 Then one realizes that faith requires hard work and practice even in times when there is no particular challenge.  
Fr. Greeley's Last Book: 
 Once upon a time there was a terrible tragedy.   Only two years after marriage a young husband died suddenly of an aneurysm. His wife, who loved him very much, was devastated. She was also furious. Why would God do this to her? Why had not the Church warned her about the possibility of tragedy when they were married, so she would have been prepared?  
 A priest tried as best he could to console her, but she would not listen. She was angry and she would not give up her anger. She stopped going to church, she stopped praying, she denounced the Church on every possible occasion. She had been a fine Catholic, strong in her faith, till her husband died. What good faith does, she said. It didn’t keep my husband alive.
 So one night he came to her, perhaps in a dream, and said I’m ashamed of you, cut it out. So she did.
Very slowly she drifted back to Church. The pain would never go away but slowly her anger did.    (Andrew Greeley) 
Michel DeVerteuil
This is the final extract from chapter 6 of John's gospel that the Church invites us to meditate on at this time. We have had three rather abstract passages and, no doubt, you will be relieved to find that we have a story again, just as we had at the opening of the chapter.

The story has several characters. In your meditation, listen carefully to yourself and you will find that you are reading the passage from the perspective of one of them; stay with that perspective so that you enter the story personally.
There is, first of all, Jesus, and you might like to focus on him as he relates with the other characters. Watch his inner freedom. Already in the account of the feeding we saw him sitting on the hillside allowing the people to come to him out of their own freedom. So, too, here he gives each group their space, those who reject him as well as the twelve - including the betrayer.
He also tells us the secret of his inner freedom: he knows he is in his Father's hands and no one can come to him unless the Father allows it. This inner freedom gives him space to see others clearly, so that he is not deceived by people.

Let your memories of great people who have touched your life confirm the truth of St John's account of Jesus, and of course, let him reveal to you how God wishes to relate with us.
Jesus' words in verse 62 are difficult, but you might want to remain with them. "The Son of Man ascending to where he was before" probably refers to the painful journey through the passion which would test his followers to the utmost. Jesus, then, is the great leader who gives his followers a first test and judges whether they will survive the greater ones that lie ahead.

Every word of the great confession of Peter is important: the four statements are different aspects of the one deep commitment. What memories does this stir up in you? Make sure not to be self-righteous as you read of those who rejected Jesus. They symbolize us when we find some demand of God difficult to accept. The use of the word "language" is significant. When our values go astray, we find the language of true believers alien to us.

The mention of the traitor might touch you. Judas is the symbol of the betrayal of Christian values that remains within every community and within each one of us.

Finally, there are the two sayings in verse 63 that are the kind of difficult sayings that occur several times in the chapter. As I have already urged you to do, be creative in your interpretation, asking yourself when you have experienced the truth of the sayings. "Flesh" here is whatever in our lives or in our Church lacks the true spirit of Jesus and therefore is not life-giving in the deepest sense.
The second saying invites us to remember "words" that gave us life and to see how they could be considered "spirit".

Thomas O'Loughlin

When the community hears this passage, be that the community listening to John thousands of years ago or the community who hear it read at the liturgy today, it is the intention that they identify themselves with the confession of Peter. They, the listeners, are those who have decided that they should go to Jesus — and there is no one else to go to; and they are those who believe that Jesus is the one with the message of eternal life; and that Jesus is the Holy One of God.

This text appears to be a challenge to those who are hearing the message of Jesus (just as Joshua appears as a challenge to the Israelites) and appears to be a situation: now you must choose: Jesus or not! However, in fact it is not a challenge as the assumption of John is that if you are listening to this, then you have already chosen. So, in reality, it is a statement of identity.

This fact about the narrative structure of both this first reading and this gospel has important consequences for preaching. It is all too easy to imagine that the preacher must now hold a challenge to the congregation: are you for Jesus? This is neither useful nor appropriate. It is not appropriate in that the community is there in Christ as baptised brothers and sisters, not some loose assemblage of people vaguely interested in what Jesus has to say. It is not useful in that it misses the point John wanted to make: know who you are, you are those who belong to the covenant, those who know that Jesus is the Bread of Life, the Holy One of God.
Lastly, the natural unit of text extends to v 71 but the last two verses have been omitted, correctly, because (1) this heightens the dramatic effect of Peter's confession, and (2) the last verses do not make sense when this passage is read as a lection in Mark's Year.

Homily notes

1. Avoid making challenges!
2. Ask this question: Who are we as a people, what unites us, what draws us here, what makes us live the lives we do?
3. We are the community who assert with Peter that there is no one else, but Jesus, who has the message of eternal life.
4. We are the community who assert with Peter that Jesus is the Holy One of God.
5. Now let us stand up and state that formally in our profession of faith.
Sean Goan

We come now to the last extract from John's gospel and the end of the discourse on the Bread of Life. It highlights a theme that began in chapter 5 of John and that is a growing opposition to and refusal to believe in Jesus. While earlier in the discourse it was the crowds who were having difficulty with Jesus' presentation of himself as the bread of life, now it is his own disciples who are complaining that it is too much to expect them to accept what Jesus has said about himself. Jesus replies that what he is speaking about can only be understood through the work of the spirit, i.e. through the eyes of faith. Some find the challenge too much and cease to follow him and in response Jesus asks the twelve do they also wish to go away. Peter replies with a confession of faith that demonstrates that he (and they!) are beginning to grasp something of the revelation that Jesus brings. Because they believe then they know that he is indeed the Holy One of God.

'What about you, do you also want to go away? No-one can be press-ganged into discipleship and Jesus yet again puts the choice before us as we gather for our Sunday Eucharist. Why is there a crisis here? Is it because they cannot believe that Jesus can truly give of himself in the way he has described? Is faith in the Eucharist too much to ask for? Perhaps it is not so much an intellectual difficulty about how this can happen but rather an intuition about the far reaching implications of what he is saying. For in giving us himself he is asking us to forget about ourselves and maybe that is just too much. Yet Peter speaks for us all when he says: 'Lord to whom shall we go? Nothing in the world with all its possibilities and attractions can nourish our hunger to love and be loved as completely as Jesus, our Bread of Life.
Prayer reflection

Lord, it sometimes happens that when we stand up for our values
our companions stop going with us
• because we will not discriminate against people of a different race;
• because we refuse to give expressions of love that are not appropriate to a relationship;
• because we criticize those in authority.
Help us, Lord, when this happens, not to become bitter,
not to give up our values, but to understand, as Jesus did,
that we cannot force people to come to us
and that a relationship will only develop if you allow it to.

Lord, we thank you for all the times in recent years
when your Church has spoken out against injustice in different parts of the world,
even when many of its members found this language intolerable
and could not accept it.

Lord, we remember the time when we were upset
because, for the first time, Jesus asked something hard of us.
Now, looking back on it, we smile.
What if we had known then how much is entailed in following him
on his way to you?

Lord, we live at the surface of ourselves, and so we lack energy and creativity.
Give us the grace to withdraw, from time to time,
to the depths of ourselves.
Only if we go to the level of the spirit can we really live.

Lord, many preachers are content to repeat what they have heard from others.
We thank you for those whose words have been life to us
because they speak from the depths of their experience.

Lord, forgive your Church that we take pride in our great achievements
• the big numbers that attend our services
• our influence with the rich and the powerful
• our imposing buildings and prestigious institutions,
forgetting that the flesh has nothing to offer.
What will give life to the world is simplicity, truth, compassion,
reverence for little people - all that we know to be the spirit of Jesus.

Lord, we thank you for the great moment when we knew we had made a life commitment
• we met the person we should spend the rest of our life with
• we gave our whole selves to a movement
• we read the life of a great person and were never the same afterwards.
We knew then that there was nowhere else for us to go;
this was, for us, the way to eternal life.
We believed and we knew that this was the Holy One of God.
It was like that when people met Jesus.

Lord, to achieve anything worthwhile in life we have to take risks.
We must go ahead and choose twelve,
even though one of them eventually betrays us.
Lord, there was a time when we made a deep act of faith and became complacent.
We thank you that you sent Jesus to us
• a friend pointed out how self-righteous we had become
• we fell into a sin we thought we had finished with.
This was Jesus reminding us that the capacity to betray him
is always part of us too.

Lord, send us leaders like Jesus who will proclaim their message,
even if many of their followers find the language intolerable and impossible to accept;
who will be free enough to turn even to their closest companions and say,
"What about you, do you want to go away too?".
1)    Backsliding 
There was once a term frequently used in the church. In the old days it was used often. You rarely ever hear it today. Indeed, in all my years in the ministry I have never preached a sermon on the topic until now. Despite the infrequency with which it is mentioned, the concept, I think, is still valid. It is backsliding.
The term backsliding, I discovered in my research, was popularized in the 1600’s by John Bunyan in his very famous allegory Pilgrim’s Progress. In the story, you may recall, the character of Christian and Hopeful are on their religious pilgrimage. While on the journey they begin to discuss an individual by the name of Temporary. He had started the pilgrimage, but along the way he fell by the wayside, or, as Bunyan worded it, backslid. That term was picked up, particularly, but not exclusively by the Methodists in early America and became a stock phrase. It referred to those once faithful individuals who had lost interest in their Christian pilgrimage…
 2)    New York Metropolitan Museum of Art 
You know you’ve crossed into some new station in your life when you visit the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art and realize as you are leaving that you completely skipped all the paintings. That’s right, the entire Renaissance wing just was not on the agenda. Suddenly it hits you: You are no longer a student, or a tourist, or an art lover. No, you are a parent of small, squirming children who need to see something big, and strong, and hard-hitting. 
So your museum tour was through the pyramids. Your museum circuit consisted of huge tombs and temples, the mummies and the caskets of ancient Egypt. But perhaps most importantly, you meandered through the mists of the medieval ages. This means rooms and rooms of ancient, awful-looking weaponry, and the Met’s huge collection of all types of “awesome” armor. There are over 15,000 pieces of ancient armor and weapons in the Metropolitan’s collection—dating from 400 BCE, through the heavily weighted years of medieval Europe, and including a huge collection of Japanese implements and armories, from the fifth through the nineteenth centuries.
As you wander around the Museum complete coats of heavy iron armor stand at attention all over the place… 
3)    Commitment: A Solitary Ember 
A church member who had been devoutly active for many years suddenly was absent. One cold winter evening the pastor knocked at his door. Actually, the pastor and the church member had been long-time good friends.
As they watched the wood burn in the fireplace, the minister mentioned the parishioner's absence from church. The man candidly confessed that he had decided he was just as well off without the church as with it. The minister didn't say a word. He took the tongs from the rack, reached into the fire, pulled out a flaming ember, and laid it down by itself on the hearth. He still said nothing.
Both men sat in silence and watched the glowing ember lose its glow and turn slowly into a crusty, black lump. After some moments of thoughtful silence, the man turned to his pastor and said, "I get the message, my friend, I see what you mean; I'll be back next Sunday." And he was.
Commitment begins with decision, but commitment is never a once-in-a-lifetime decision.

Charles R. Leary, Mission Ready! CSS Publishing Company
4)    Join the Winning Side! 
Jim Wallis writes that when the South African government canceled a political rally against apartheid, Desmond Tutu led a worship service in St. George’s Cathedral. The walls were lined with soldiers and riot police carrying guns and bayonets, ready to close it down. Bishop Tutu began to speak of the evils of the apartheid system -- how the rulers and authorities that propped it up were doomed to fall. He pointed a finger at the police who were there to record his words: "You maybe powerful -- very powerful -- but you are not God. God cannot be mocked. You have already lost."
Then, in a moment of unbearable tension, the bishop seemed to soften. Coming out from behind the pulpit, he flashed that radiant Tutu smile and began to bounce up and down with glee. "Therefore, since you have already lost, we are inviting you to join the winning side."

The crowd roared, the police melted away and the people began to dance. Don’t go away, Paul says. Put on your armor and dance. I am inviting you to join the winning side.

John Ortberg, "Roll Call," article in The Christian Century, August 9, 2003, p.16.
5)    Difficult Sayings
That great American writer, Mark Twain, wrote: "Most people are bothered by those passages in Scriptures which they cannot understand; but as for me, I always notice that the passages in Scripture which trouble me most are those which I do understand."
I suspect that, at times, we all would like to walk away from the church and never come back. We want a God different from the one we find in Jesus.
Flesh and blood? Yes. But demanding? No.
Resurrected? Yes. But crucified? No.
Salvation? Yes. Repentance? No.
Love? Yes. Commitment? No.
Unfortunately you cannot have one without the other. The rose comes with the thorns. The pains come with the birth. Night come with day. The best of times can only be lived because there are those times that are so bad.
Brett Blair,
6)    Cheap Crosses 
A missionary in Brazil visited a market town on a religious holiday, and saw a sale sign in a store’s window advertising "Cheap crosses for sell." We may look for cheap crosses – no sacrifice, no commitment, no cost, no pain – but there is no such thing. Jesus’ disciples have to follow the way of the cross.
Katherine Fagerburg, Difficult Decisions
7)    Humour: I Quit 
A guy joins a monastery and takes a vow of silence. He's allowed to say two words every seven years. After the first seven years, the elders bring him in and ask for his two words. "Cold floors," he says. They nod and send him away. Seven more years pass. They bring him back in and ask for his two words. He clears his throat and says, "Bad food." They nod and send him away.
Seven more years pass. They bring him in for his two words. "I quit," he says. "That's not surprising," the elders say. "You've done nothing but complain since you got here."
This gentleman at the monastery had something in common with the followers of Jesus: it was just too hard.
 8)    I Am the Path 
Stanley Jones tells of a missionary who got lost in an African jungle, nothing around him but bush and a few cleared places. He found a native hut and asked the native if he could get him out. The native said he could.
"All right," said the missionary, "show me the way."
The native said, "Walk," so they walked and hacked their way through unmarked jungle for more than an hour.
The missionary got worried. "Are you quite sure this is the way? Where is the path?"
The native said, "Bwana, in this place there is no path. I am the path."
I think that it is here that Peter has one of his more honest and real moments. His guard was down because so many people were leaving Jesus. They were leaving because, quite frankly, things were getting a little too difficult. So, Jesus asks the twelve, are you going to leave me as well? "Lord, to whom shall we go?" Peter replied, "You have the words of eternal life. You are the Holy One of God." Peter speaks for us all. Because in this wrorld there is not path. Peter, you are right. He is the Path!
Brett Blair,
9)    I Step Out on the Word of God

Poet Maya Angelou recalls the struggles of her grandmother living through the great depression. She remembers a lot of things about her grandmother: her wisdom, her stature. But it was her grandmother's faith that Maya remembers most. Clasping her hands behind her back her grandmother would look up into the distant sky and say, "I will step out on the word of God."

The great depression was a difficult time for everyone, but "especially so for a single black woman in the South tending her crippled son and two grandchildren." But when faced with mountainous burdens, Maya's grandmother would face the sky and say, "I will step out on the word of God."

"She would look up as if she could will herself into the heavens," Maya writes. And because of her grandmother, Maya Angelou grew up knowing that the word of God had power. And now, today, whenever she experiences the injustices of this world, Maya remembers the great faith of her grandmother. God gives us spiritual armor to protect us from the evil we face daily: He gives us truth, righteousness, the willingness to speak up for Christ, and, most importantly, faith.
King Duncan,
 10) A Higher Priority
 At the Olympic games in Paris in 1924 the sport of canoe racing was added to the list of international competitions. The favorite team in the four-man canoe race was the United States team. One member of that team was a young man by the name of Bill Havens.
As the time for the Olympics neared, it became clear that Bill's wife would give birth to her first child about the time that Bill would be competing in the Paris Games. In 1924 there were no jet airliners from Paris to the United States, only slow-moving ocean-going ships. And so Bill found himself in a dilemma. Should he go to Paris and risk not being at his wife's side when their first child was born? Or should he withdraw from the team and remain behind. Bill's wife insisted that he go to Paris. After all, he had been working towards this for all these years. It was the culmination of a life-long dream.
Clearly the decision was not easy for Bill to make. Finally, after much soul searching, Bill decided to withdraw from the competition and remain behind with his wife so that he could be with her when their first child arrived. Bill considered being at her side a higher priority than going to Paris to fulfill a life-long dream.
To make a long story short, the United States four-man canoe team won the gold medal at the Paris Olympics. And Bill's wife was late in giving birth to her first child. She was so late that Bill could have competed in the event and returned home in time to be with her when she gave birth.
People said, "What a shame." But Bill said he had no regrets. After all, his commitment to his wife was more important then, and it still was now.
The story of Bill Havens is a story of how one man paid a high price to fulfill a commitment to someone he loved.
From Fr. Tony Kadavil's Collection:
11) Martyrs choice for God,  for Christ and  his teachings:
The Old Testament,  the  New  Testament  and  the  history  of  the  Church  tell  the  stories  of brave men and  women who  heroically exercised their freedom of choice for God and    His   commandments   and   courted   martyrdom.   II   Maccabees   6:  18-31 describes  how   the  90  year  old  saintly  Scribe,  Eleazar,  welcomed  martyrdom instead  of  eating  the  flesh  of  pork.  The  same  book   describes  another  heroic Jewish mother and  seven of her brave children who  lost their lives by resisting the order  of the  Greek  commander to  reject their Jewish faith.  The martyrdom of St. Stephen is described in the Acts of the Apostles. The first three  centuries saw thousands of Christians heroically choosing Christ and  courting the cruel death inflicted by the pagan Roman  Empire. St. Thomas More was the second in power in England and  St. John Fisher the  Vice-Chancellor of Cambridge University. Both were  executed by  King Henry  VIII for  choosing  the  teaching  of  the  Church  on marriage and  divorce instead of choosing their kings view. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a German theologian and  pastor, chose to resist the  anti-Christian and  non-ethical doctrines  of  Hitler and  was  executed at  39. Todays  readings  challenge  us  to make  a choice for God  and  His teachings or against God.
12) Do  we  stand  for  God?  
 A group  of  Christians  gathered  for  a  secret  prayer meeting  in  Russia,  at  the  height  of  the  persecution  of  all  Christian  churches. Suddenly the door  was broken by the boot of a soldier. He entered the room  and faced the  people with  a gun  in his hand. They all feared the  worst. He spoke. "If theres anyone who  doesnt really  believe in Jesus, then,  get  out  now  while  you have  a chance." There was  a rush  to  the  door.  A small group remained - those who  had  committed themselves to  Jesus, and  who  were  never  prepared to  run from him. The soldier closed the door  after  the others, and  once again, he stood in front of those who  remained, gun poised. Finally, a smile appeared on his face, as  he  turned  to  leave the  room,  and  he  whispered "Actually, I believe in Jesus, too,  and  youre  much better  off  without  those  others!"  (Jack McArdle in  And That's  the  Gospel  Truth:  Reflections  on  the  Sunday  Gospels  Year  B [December, 1999]
13)  "Im Jesus! Dont you  choose  me?"
There is the story that  during  the Second World  War certain Nazis shot down a group of Jews and  buried them  in a mass grave.  A partially hurt twelve-year-old boy  was still alive.   He dug  his way  out  of the shallow dirt and  went  around the neighborhood seeking shelter in homes.  The people knew  what had  happened and,  when  they  saw the boy  caked with dirt, they  hurriedly  shut the  door  in his face. One  woman was about to do  the same when  the boy  said:  Mom, dont you recognize me?  Im the Jesus you Christians say  you  love.   The lady  broke  into  tears  and  received  the  boy  into  her home. She  had   made her  choice  for  Jesus.  In  todays  gospel,  Jesus  challenges  his audience to believe him and  to accept his promise of the Eucharistic food.

14) Mexican Priest:

In the 1920s, the Mexican government was hunting priests like wild animals. Young Jesuit Miguel Pro was finally caught. His sentence was death by firing squad. His final words as bullets ripped through his body were, "Long live Christ the King." His Jesus came out of John's Gospel and not the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke.
15) Higgs Boson:

I'd like to introduce the homily with a joke. It comes from science comedian Brian Malow: (deep breath) The Higgs Boson walks into a Church. "What are you doing here?" the priest asks. Higgs Boson says, "You can't have Mass without me." (pause)

It was funnier when Brian Malow told it.* (smile)

The joke contains a kernel of truth. The Higgs boson is about matter and we can't have the Mass without material elements.

That is theme of this homily - Jesus offers salvation that is both material and spiritual. He invites us to his own supper - the Supper of the Lamb. As we shall see, that supper has a physical and spiritual dimension.