A Defining Moment

(Homily for Twenty-first Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B)

Bottom line: Jesus asks us to make a decision which defines our relation to him and to each other.

There comes a moment for every group when they have to make a decision: Are they going to hang together or each go separate ways? That happened, for example, in the history of our country. After we won the War of Independence, we were still not a nation. We had only gone from being thirteen colonies to being thirteen states. Representatives of the states met in Philadelphia to determine what kind of union they would have. They wanted things like common defense and open commerce, but - at the same time - each state guarded its own rights and prerogatives. Finally a young man named James Madison stood up and stated the obvious: You cannot form a nation based on each one defending their own turf; you have to make some sacrifices to work together. Well, by a fairly small margin, the delegates accepted Madison's proposal - and instead of being thirteen states we became the United States. It was a defining moment for our country.

Today St. Paul says something similar about marriage. You cannot form a marriage by a man and woman jealously guarding their own rights. It involves what he calls "subordination." That word probably jars us a little, but what it means is clear enough. Each person has to sacrifice something, give up some of their personal prerogatives. At that point the man and woman are no longer simply two people living together. Instead, they become the beautiful sacrament of marriage.

In the Gospel, we see the disciples reaching a moment of decision. After Jesus announced that he was bread and that we must feed on him to have life, most people left him. Only the Twelve remained. Jesus did not soften or explain away his words. Rather, he asked them: Will you also leave me? We must understand that following Jesus is not like belonging to a political party or a club - that we stick with him as long as we agree with most of what he says. No. It cannot be that way with Jesus.*

Now, I have to admit that Jesus taught things which make me uncomfortable. The question is not whether I like everything he said. Heck, a lot of it I barely understand! The real question is this: whether I - and you - accept him. Peter spoke for the other apostles. Master, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. Those words marked a defining moment. They stopped being a collection of individuals. They became a Church. The Church.

**********

*Even though we can call him our elder brother because he condescended to come down to our human plain, we cannot pretend equality with him. He is as far superior to us as the sun to a birthday candle. The comparison applies not only in terms of dimension, but also of origin: the energy released in the light and warmth of the candle ultimately has its source in the sun. The comparison breaks down, however, when we recognize that both the sun and the candle are derivative.

Spanish Version

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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