Decide Today!

(Homily 21st Sunday, B)

The Envoy Magazine cruise to Alaska was wonderful! Besides great food and magnificent scenery, we received spiritual nourishment from powerful speakers: Scott Hahn, Marcus Grodi and Jeff Cavins. All three made a great sacrifice: successful Protestants ministers, their study of the Bible and Christian history convinced them the Catholic Church has divine authority from Jesus himself. Dr. Hahn's book, Rome Sweet Home, tells about his conversion and that of his wife, Kimberly. Marcus Grodi and Jeff Cavins have equally dramatic stories. As a lead-in to today's Gospel, I would like to recount the humorous tale Jeff Cavins told about Scott Hahn as a new Catholic.

After his conversion Scott decided to do door-to-door evangelizing. He came to the home of a man intrigued to hear a Catholic evangelist. As Scott presented the faith to him, someone else knocked on the door: two Jehovah Witnesses! The man let them in, eager to find out which was the true religion. Well, Scott answered their questions and went on to show the divinity of Jesus, how he had founded the Catholic Church and instituted the seven sacraments. One of the Witnesses, in frustration, picked up his briefcase and pulled out a small bottle. He placed it on the table in front of Scott saying, "It's poison. But the Bible says true disciples of Jesus will be able to drink deadly poison and live. If your faith is true, drink it."

Scott looked hard at the noxious liquid. In a flash of inspiration, he said, "I can do something even better." Then, pushing the bottle across the table, said, "You drink the poison and I will raise you from the dead!"

Now I don't know if this story is one hundred percent correct, but it does show something. If we are going to follow Jesus, we cannot do it by mere logic, what young people call a "head trip." At some point we have to make a decision, take a risk - surely not an imprudent one like drinking poison.* Nevertheless, following Jesus will involve a genuine risk.

Our first reading indicates just how dramatic that decision will be. Joshua summoned the tribes and said to them, "Decide today whom you will serve." Not tomorrow, not when you turn seventy, but this very moment. It's the only one you have. Who will you serve? God or the gods of the culture? Joshua's response, even after three millenia, still rings strong, "As for me and my household, we will serve the Lord." (Josh 24:15)

Jesus desires such a response from us. It does not come easy. We live in an age of equivocation, also known as dissent. The mass media, driven by advertising, strive to convince us that at last we can have our cake and eat it too. It's one thing to fall for ads offering eternal youth or happiness without sacrifice. But it would be fatal to fall for this seductive offer: That we can call ourselves Christians and at the same time pick and choose ("make up my own mind") which teachings of Jesus we will accept.** Most of those Jesus fed in the desert tried to do exactly that. They wanted such a king, but when he told them they must eat his body and drink his blood, they hedged. They "returned to their former way of life." (Jn 6:66) Faced with the radical claims of Jesus, they sought refuge in what modern philosophers call the "autonomous self." But it provides only an illusory shelter - as the growing despair of our age shows.

Peter risked his very self by making a different response. When Jesus asked the apostles if they too would leave him, Peter said, "Master." That is, someone greater than me. "To whom shall we go? You have words of eternal life." (Jn 6:68)

**********

*Jesus' prophecy about his disciples drinking deadly poison and handling serpents (Mk 16:18) was fulfilled by Paul (see Acts 28:1-7). Christianity has given birth to colorful groups like the "snake handlers" who themselves attempt to fulfill such prophecies. While admiring their sincerity, their abandon betrays a subtle form of self-exaltation. Notice Paul did not deliberately pick up the viper. (Acts 28:3) Jesus wasn't speaking about a "side show" to convince unbelievers. We are under God, not vica versa.

**Of course each one of us must make us his own mind - but about Jesus, not which of his teachings we like. Christianity involves giving oneself to a person, not selecting the most comfortable party platform.

From Archives (21st Ordinary Sunday - Year B):

2015: Dimensions of the Eucharist Week 5: Freedom
2012: The Supper of the Lamb
2009: Crossing The Line
2006: A Defining Moment
2003: Intimacy and Submission
2000: Decide Today!
1997: Drawing a Line in the Sand

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