TWENTY- FIRST SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME
Never Give Up
First Reading (Josh 24: 1-2, 15-17,18): The Israelites determined to serve God
Second Reading (Eph 5: 21-32): Husbands and wives should imitate Christ's love for the Church
Gospel (Jn 6: 60-69): Disciples reject teaching on the ‘Bread of Life’
-“If this is what I love and believe, even to die nine times I will not regret.”(1)
-“When the season becomes cold, then we know how the pine and the cypress are the last to lose their leaves.”(2)
-“The lotus dies and so does its extended rain shield. The chrysanthemum withers but still its frost-covered stem proudly stands.”(3)
“When many of his disciples heard it (the words about the bread of life) they said, ‘This teaching is difficult; who can accept it?’Because of this many of his disciples turned back and no longer went about with him. So Jesus asked the twelve, ‘Do you also wish to go away?’ Simon Peter answered him, ‘Lord, to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and know that you are the Holy One of God.” (Jn 6: 60 – 69)
Faith and life cannot be separated. People with strong characters can easily build up firm faith. In the ‘witness’ at the diamond jubilee celebration of Our Lady of Perpetual Succor at Tai O (see Kung Kao Po, 6 July, 1997) I pointed out that my own Catholic faith, including my zeal for the faith in Vatican II, is rooted firmly in my childhood experience of life in Tai O.
I do not advocate pre-arranged marriages. But those who do (‘marry a chicken, follow the chicken’), both men and women, usually hold to the indissolubility of marriage and are willing to accept Jesus’ words, “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.” (Eph 5: 21-32)
In the Old Testament Ruth was able to say to her mother-in-law, “Wherever you go, I will go; wherever you lodge, I will lodge; your people shall be my people, and your God my God. Where you die, I will die – there will I be buried. (Ruth 1:16-17) Therefore she could remain loyal to God throughout her life, and was deemed worthy to become the ancestress of the Messiah.
The Jews are extremely persistent in their faith, Paul is an example of this. He firmly believed he should annihilate the Christians, but afterwards just as firmly protected the Christian faith with his very life. We must live with a purpose and with principles; we must cultivate a noble, heroic spirit and show consistency and steadfastness, especially in important issues.
Some people think in this way: ‘I am neither a hero nor a saint. I'm just a very, very ordinary person.’ My own thinking is quite different. I ask rather, ‘Why can't we be heroes? Why don't we want to be saints? Can we not live our ordinary lives in an extraordinary manner? Why did Jesus demand that we must “be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect?” (Mt 5:48) Can it be that Jesus is a person who speaks empty words? Can it be that no one is able to put his words into practice?
Actually, each one of us and all the faithful should strive to be persons of integrity who have ideals and convictions, are courageous and committed and able to persevere to the end. We certainly can live out our ordinary lives in an extraordinary way!
Faith is an option, an absolute, free, responsible and irretrievable choice. It includes total commitment and submission to the Lord and a supernatural trust which requires no proof or guarantee. This is what Qu Yuan said in Li Sao, “If this is what I love or believe, even to die nine times I will not regret.”(1)
In today's first Reading, Joshua said to all the people, “If you are unwilling to serve the Lord, choose this day whom you will serve…but as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.” (Josh 24:15) This is also our choice and we steadfastly adhere to it. We can use the words of the marriage vows: ‘for better or for worse, in sickness or in health’ we will choose and follow the Lord for all eternity.
Peter's faith was like that. Perhaps at first he and the other disciples believed because they were moved emotionally, or they saw Jesus' miracles, or they admired his personality or were drawn to his teaching. Or even because it was the fashion, the thing to do at the moment. But then the test came. Not only the crowds lost confidence in Jesus, even many of his followers were unable to accept his words on the ‘bread of life.’ They said, “This teaching is difficult; who can accept it?”
The Gospel continues, “Because of this many of his disciples turned back and no longer went about with him.” But Peter said, “Lord, to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life.” He remained and so did all of the Twelve.
Confucius said, “When the season becomes cold, then we know how the pine and the cypress are the last to lose their leaves.” (Confucian Analects, Book IX Tsz Han, Chap 27) (2). In ‘A Poem for Liu Jing Wen’ Su Shi wrote, ‘The lotus dies and so does its extended rain shield. The chrysanthemum withers but its frost-covered stem still proudly stands.”(3) Peter's faith was like the pine and cypress which were ‘the last to lose their leaves,’ or the chrysanthemum which had withered but still ‘its frost-covered stem proudly stands.’ Even amid the attacks of ice and frost, rain and snow, such faith stands immovable, proudly facing all the challenges of life.