21st Sunday in Ordinary Time (B)
Picture: cc Matt Lucht
Sisters and brothers, do you know the difference between eggs in a basket and the organs in your body? I’m sure we’re all familiar with the English proverb that tells us never to put all our eggs into one basket. The reason is simple. If something happens to that basket, then everything is lost. For example, instead of investing all their money in a single stock, many people maintain a whole portfolio. A variety of financial baskets in which to place their monetary eggs. So that even if one or two stocks may go bust, the gain from the others might more than make up for the loss. For safety’s sake, our resources need to be diversified. Scattered about.
But the same can’t be said for the organs in our body. Unlike eggs, they are not resources to be exploited. Investments that can be diversified. Whether I like it or not, my eyes and ears, my heart and lungs, my kidneys and liver, all have to be located in a single body. Mine. There’s no question of scattering them. Even if my doctors may be able to keep my heart beating for a time outside of my body, this is only a temporary measure. And I would be crazy to even think of storing my stomach somewhere else for safekeeping. Just in case something might happen to the rest of me. I could, of course, donate my kidney. Or have my appendix removed. But they would then no longer be mine. One would become a part of someone else’s body. The other would simply be thrown away.
That’s the difference between eggs and organs, isn’t it, sisters and brothers? Eggs should be diversified. Scattered about in different baskets. But organs have to be gathered together. Located in a single body. Even if that body may fall sick sometimes. And die. But what about my hopes for happiness? My dreams of leading a fuller life? Are my hopes and dreams more like eggs or organs? Should they be scattered about? Or gathered together in one place? This, my dear friends, is the question that our readings invite us to ponder today.
Of course, at a certain level, it seems possible, even necessary, to diversify our hopes. As we would eggs in different baskets. We may, for example, place our hopes not just on our employer for a raise. But also on our spouse for greater understanding. And on our country’s government, as well as the global economy, for a more peaceful and just environment in which to live. And yet, our readings remind us that, at the deepest level, our hopes are really not meant to be like eggs. To be scattered about for safety’s sake. Rather, like the organs in our body, they need to be gathered together. Centralised in a single location. And this location needs to be the right one. If we are to be truly happy.
Isn’t this why, in the first reading, Joshua presents the people of Israel with only two options. Either to serve the Lord their God alone. Or to serve other gods. Why can’t the people serve both the Lord as well as other gods? Why not diversify? Wouldn’t that be the safer option? If one god fails you, another might succeed. Or why not split up the work? Pray to one god for good weather. Another for victory in war. Yet another for a good harvest. Far more efficient, right? Why not?
One reason could, of course, lie with God. God is jealous. Refusing to share honour and glory with others. But another reason could also lie with us. With the nature of our hopes and dreams. Unlike eggs, they can’t be scattered about. Like organs, they need instead to be gathered together. Centralised in a single location. And there is no other place more secure than God. To place our hopes in God alone. That is the secret to true happiness. The only way to lasting joy and peace.
But still, this centralisation of our hopes in a single Place is not always easy to do. It requires great trust and deep faith. The ability to keep believing and worshipping, even when we can’t see clearly where exactly it is we are going. To keep clinging to God, even when we don’t understand all the whys and whats and hows of life. Isn’t this the experience of Peter and his companions in the gospel today? Earlier in the story, Jesus had presented an incredible teaching. If you do not eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you will not have life in you. Sounds like cannibalism. Or vampirism. Crazy talk! Is it any wonder that even his followers could not understand? This is intolerable language, they exclaim. How could anyone accept it? As a result, many of his disciples left him and stopped going with him.
Just as it can be very uncomfortable for our organs to remain in our bodies should we fall sick. So too can it be very difficult to keep placing our hopes in God alone when we encounter trials and hardship. Experiences that pose to us questions that we just cannot answer. Plunging us into mysteries that we are simply unable to understand. Why, for example, does God allow evildoers to thrive? While many good people suffer? Why let cruel bombs kill so many? Even at places of prayer, such as the Erawan Shrine in Bangkok? And why do our own prayers often seem to go unanswered? Prayers for a more successful career. Or a more understanding spouse. Or a clearer direction in life. Even for world peace. Why? Why? Why?
At such times, it can be so tempting to give up on the Lord. To stop following him. To serve other gods instead. And we can do this even while continuing to come to Mass. And to receive communion. We may go through the external motions of worship. But deep within us, we know that we have actually already shifted our loyalty. Transferred our trust. Turned our hearts away from the Lord. And onto something else. Like money. Or popularity. Or technology. Or hard work...
And yet, what is remarkable about the gospel is Peter’s ability to continue clinging to Jesus. Even though he does not understand. Lord, who shall we go to? Peter asks. We believe; we know that you are the Holy One of God? From where does Peter get the courage to do this? Jesus provides the answer when he says that no one could come to me unless the Father allows him. Faith is, after all, a gift. Which is why we prayed the way we did in our opening prayer just now. We asked God to cause the minds of the faithful to unite in a single purpose… that, amid the uncertainties of this world, our hearts may be fixed on that place where true gladness is found. Our prayer is for us to be like Peter. To be able to deposit all our hopes in a single Place. Christ Jesus the Lord.
But, in addition to praying for this grace, we need also to prepare our hearts to receive it. By doing what we sang in the psalm. Taste and see the goodness of the Lord. By recalling the blessings that God has showered upon us. As the Israelites do in the first reading. The wonderful things that God has done for us. First and most precious of which is what we celebrate at this Mass. How Christ loved the Church and sacrificed himself for her to make her holy. We find the courage to place our trust in Christ when we remember how he gave up his own physical body for us on the Cross. To make us parts of his one mystical body. The Church.
Sisters and brothers, eggs should be scattered about. But organs must be gathered together in one proper place. As we assemble to partake of the one Body of Christ, what must we do, you and I, to continue placing all our hope in Him alone today?