Twenty-first Sunday of Ordinary Time – Year B

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Francis J. Caponi, O.S.A.
Villanova University
Villanova, Pennsylvania

Jos 24:1-2a,15-17,18b
Ps 34:2-3,16-17,18-19,20-21
Eph 5:21-32 or 5:2a,25-32
Jn 6:60-69

In general, there are three sorts of questions we encounter daily. First, there are things that sound like questions, but really aren’t. Second, things that don’t sound like questions, but really are. Third, there are real questions.

For instance, when we walk by someone we know in an office hallway or on campus or at the store, one of us says, “Hi! How are you?” Usually, we don’t want a real answer. If the person we have greeted stops and starts telling us about his recent medical exam, or about her mother in Altoona, generally we aren’t happy about it. It wasn’t a real question. The person is supposed to smile, say “Fine, thanks,” and keep walking. That’s the script. There are many questions like that. “What’s up?” “How’s it going? “Isn’t this a great song?” “How about those Phillies?” No one wants real answers to those questions.

Then there are things that don’t sound like questions but really are. Children are great with these. When he was a child, my nephew, Matthew, was walking with me through a mall, when suddenly he pointed at an X-Box game and said something like, “That’s a great video game! My best friend Jason has that, but Mom says I have to wait for Christmas.” Correctly translated, this statement is really a question: “Oh, Uncle Fran, won’t you buy this for me, and be ever so much nicer than my mean parents?”

And then there are questions that are real. “What time is it?” “What do you want for lunch?” “Where are you from?” “Which way is the hospital?” These are the questions we ask because we are curious, or need information, or want to learn more about a person. 

Today’s readings are a series of questions.

Today’s challenge is for us to decide whether they are real or not.

At Shechem, Joshua has gathered the tribes of Israel, and he puts this question to them: “Decide today whom you will serve.” It’s in the form of a declaration, a command – but it is unmistakably a question. Whom will you serve? The Lord, or the idols of Egypt and Canaan?

Jesus turns to the apostles, and he puts this question to them: “Do you also want to leave?” It’s in the form of a question, a real question, and a deadly serious one, too:Whom will you follow? The ones who do not believe? The one’s who did believe, but now have left?

So there’s the challenge: “Whom will you follow?” Is that a real question, or the spiritual equivalent of “How are you?”, a question that’s not really a question but simply a show of good manners? Do we answer “Jesus Christ” easily, knowing it is the conventional reply and neither expecting nor welcoming any follow-up questions? When we renew our baptismal vows each Easter, and we hear the questions, “Do you reject Satan and all his works?…Do you believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ”, do we say “yes” in the same spirit that we say “fine,” “good,” “doing great”, “can’t complain!”?

These same questions are put to us every day, sometimes in words, sometimes in challenging situations. Will your marriage be, as Jesus and Paul both teach, two becoming one flesh? Or will contraception, infidelity, or pornography make two of the one? Will I follow Christ in the workplace, as I hear cruel jokes or see petty theft or fall into laziness? Whom do I follow at school, whom do I serve on vacation, where is my loyalty when someone is sick, mourning, or lonely?

Fortunately, we do not answer that question alone. Christ established a Church, that we might support one another in responding to his call. Christ blesses us with family and friends who shoulder our burdens and share our pain and correct us when we stray. Christ sends us good people who know the difference between the questions “How are you?” and “Whom will you serve with your whole heart and soul?”

Today, if you are properly prepared and come forward to receive the Eucharist, the Lord will ask a question. It won’t sound like a question. You will hear the words “The body of Christ.” It’s a statement, to be sure, but it is also a question – and there is no question more crucial, because if we answer “Amen,” we are declaring we will follow and serve Christ. We may fall – we will fall – as we walk that path. That is not a danger, but a certainty. We will fall. The danger is that we will stop hearing the question.

So when you hear the words “The body of Christ,” be sure to hear the questions, too. “The body of Christ.” Do you forgive as I have commanded?
“The body of Christ.” Do you feed the poor and visit the sick?
“The body of Christ.” Are you chaste in marriage, and pure outside of it?
“The body of Christ.” Do you honor my Mother, and your parents? Strive for peace? 
     Pray for the dead?

“The body of Christ.”