Homily on the 21st Sunday of Year B
August 23, 2009
The Cory magic that drew hundreds of thousands to brave the inclement weather to bid goodbye to former President Aquino had a number of significance. Quite apart from being a huge outpouring of affection for her, it could also be taken an expression of people’s dream of what true governance should be, of which Cory is a symbol. Given a dispensation perceived to be rife with grand scale corruption, electoral fraud, extrajudicial killings, betrayal of public trust, Cory’s incorruptible character, her heart for the downtrodden, her truthfulness, simplicity and humility, to mention a few, encapsulate people’s expectation from a leader of the nation. As Lanie Aquino puts it, “her legacy for moral leadership and unequivocal dedication to her countrymen will forever keep me vigilant against those people whose only intention is to entrench themselves in the power elite core, enriching themselves in the process, robbing the Filipino people and the country’s resources dry.” In other words, if hundred of thousands came out to see the funeral cortege, it was to crystallize where the choice of the people lies—it is on the side of truth, incorruptibility, self-sacrifice, liberality and transparency.
In today’s Gospel (John 6:60-69), a somewhat parallel issue is being presented to us. It may be recalled from the previous Sundays that according to John Jesus proclaimed his own goal for man to achieve in order to make him happy: eternal life, a life in which people are one and love one another, and experience freedom and integrity. And just as Cory had a program for real democracy, Jesus had a program to attain that form of life--the bread of life. As we saw in the preceding Sundays, Jesus, as Eucharist, presented himself first as Wisdom—the Word of God, and the Christians, as an implication of Jesus’ claim, are a community of the Word, hearing it, living it, and embodying it. This is what it means to eat the bread of life. Next, he offered himself as Sacrament—the sign of God love for his people, manifested in his dying for them, and for this reason the community lives the spirit of Jesus, he dwells in the community, and the community lives in him. The members of the community share with others all they have and are, and are filled with the Spirit, manifested in their faces, and in their songs. This, too, is what eating the bread of life means.
But the Gospel challenges us: do we accept him as the bread of life? Do we accept him as the principle, guide, standard and supreme norm of our lives? Do we accept him as our redeemer, saving us by giving himself to us as bread of life? Such a challenge was also offered to the people in the Old Testament. As the First Reading (Jos 24:1-2.15-17.18) points out, Joshua at a renewal of the covenant in Shechem after the Israelites entered into the promised land gathered all the tribes and gave them a challenge: “Decide today whom you will serve, the gods your fathers served beyond the River or the gods of the Amorites in whose country you are dwelling” (Jos 24:15bc). The people answered: “We will serve the Lord for he is our God” (Jos 24:18). Similarly, in the New Testament, we who have seen the power of God manifested in the life and death of Jesus are given the challenge: “Do you want to leave me, too?” (John 6:67). Shall we refuse to believe that in eating the Wisdom and the Sacrament of God we will attain everlasting life? John, of course, presents Peter as the model of our response to the challenge: “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We are have come to believe, we are convinced that you are God’s holy one” (John 6:69).
But the implication of this yes of Peter to Jesus words is quite enormous. For to accept Jesus as the supreme norm of our life means that we decide to empty ours and fill it with the life of Jesus, which is more than simply saying that we imitate him in discipleship. Moreover, if we link this to the Second Reading (Eph 5:21-32), accepting Jesus as the bread of life implies that we cannot manifest in ourselves and in our lives the life and death of Jesus without having to form a new family of God, in much the same way that those who affirmed the Lord as their God at the time of Joshua eventually recognized themselves as the people of God. By eating the bread of life, we form in the final result God’s family headed by Christ himself who loves the community. And his relationship with the community becomes itself the pattern of the relationship that exists among the members—loving one another, giving up one’s life for the sake of the other (Eph 5:23). We cast aside our past life and unite ourselves with the members of the community in an unbreakable bond of unity (cf Eph 5:31 ).
At the beginning of our reflection, we adverted to the thought that given an atmosphere where lies, injustice, abuse of power are perceived to prevail, people yearn for a new order where there is truth, transparency, justice, and self-sacrifice, especially among leaders of the nation. Will our national leaders opt for this dreamed-of new order? Of course, some politicians could make this order their slogan, but whether they would make it as their real choice, considering that it would entail loss of power and privilege, remains to be seen. In the light of the Gospel, we have to ask: shall we make Jesus the supreme norm of his life? Yet, that is what it means to be a Christian. Of course, in our liturgy, we are reminded in the response to the Eucharistic Prayer that the right attitude to the challenge of Jesus is to say “Amen” to him. That way, we follow Peter who said, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life” (John 6:68).