23 August 2009


21st Sunday in Ordinary Time
Jn 6:60-69

At first, the Israelites were a nomadic people. They move from place to place: where there was pasture there they pitched their tents. But their lives changed dramatically when they started living permanently in a particular place: finally, after forty years of traveling through the desert, folded their tents, built houses for themselves, and began owning more and various properties. More importantly, whereas their security used to be in belonging to a group of travelers, they gradually found their identity in being a nation. These things happened, however, not during Moses’ leadership, but during Joshua’s.

Joshua was a disciple of Moses. He eventually became the head of Moses’ army. It was him, not Moses, who lead the Israelites in the last stretch of their journey and actual entrance into the Promised Land. Moses died on top of Mount Nebo without entering the Promised Land; he saw it only from afar. Thereupon, Joshua picked up from where Moses left: leading the Israelites in crossing the River Jordan, in conquering Canaan, and in dividing the land among the Twelve Tribes.

Until today, Joshua is acclaimed as the most valiant commander in the history of the Jewish armed forces. His name is engraved in the Hall of Fame even at the West Point Military Academy in the U.S.A.

When age caught up with him and the land experienced momentary peace, Joshua gathered the tribes of Israel at the shrine in Shechem. This is the first reading today. The elders, the leaders, the judges, and the scribes of the people convened to hear the final SONA (State of the Nation Address) of their revered Commander-in Chief. His final SONA, however, sounded strange: Joshua did not recall his victories; neither did he ask the people to remember the gains he made for them. Instead, he asked them to choose whom they would serve: the God of their ancestors or the false gods of the land they now occupy.

Remarkable! Joshua did not long to be remembered by his people as the greatest Commander-in-Chief who brought them into the Promised Land but as the prophet who brought them to choose God again. If he were living today, Joshua would not take pride in having cushioned the impact of the current global economic crisis on his people; rather, he would value most the refocusing of his people on God.

Such was Joshua: more than military war, the battle of faith was more important to him. He gave his people the chance to re-commit themselves to God. We pray that we, as the Philippine nation, may never miss the same chance. If, indeed, we will have the chance to elect our national and local leaders in May next year, may our choices proclaim, without an ounce of doubt, that we choose God and refocus our selves on Him.

Tired and old, Joshua’s days were numbered. But despite his countless victories in the battlefield, he did not glorify war, for no one really wins in a war. Just as the curtain falls on his colorful life, what Joshua truly valued most shone unmistakably: The hearts of his people – who held them? From then on, Israel started to move from being God’s Chosen People to the People choosing God. This was Joshua’s final battle. This was his most important war. This was his most beautiful fight. And he won it. “As for me and my household,” Joshua declared, “we shall serve the Lord.” And the people chorused: “We, too! We shall serve the Lord. He is our God.” Joshua did not only lead his people into the Promised Land; he led them into the victory of loyalty to Him who fulfilled His promise to them.

This Old Testament episode is repeated in the gospel today. We can hear an echo of Joshua’s offer to his people as Jesus offered His disciples the choice to stay with Him or to leave Him. Many who started following Jesus could not accept His teaching that His flesh was real food and His blood was real drink, and that unless they eat His flesh and drink His blood, they would not have life in them; thus, they turned their backs on Jesus and began drifting away from His company. They could not stomach the food He was offering them. They could not digest His words. Seeing the choice of the many, Jesus faced His disciples who, in turn, faced the most crucial choice: would they also leave Him? But as it was during Joshua’s time, the disciples chose to stay. The disciples used their freedom in making their choice. They used their freedom well. May we also do the same: use our freedom – the freedom won by the blood of those whom we heart-rendingly acclaim as heroes and heroines (like Ninoy) – for choosing good over evil always.
Daily, in small and big ways, we are confronted by the most basic, yet most important, choice that reveals our fundamental option in life: Do we choose God or the world? Where shall we go? For us, who has the words of everlasting life? Even when we, Filipinos, cast our votes in next year’s national and local elections, we should truly know not only who are choices are but also for whom are we making our choices. Nine months away from election day and with the campaign period not starting yet, many are already trying to win our votes, and still many (unfortunately, some are religious leaders) seem to be turning the sacred suffrage into a pathetic national circus. Whoever we choose, come election day, may our choices really reflect our fundamental option for the good and the godly (not the gadfly).

May we prove Jesus right that, indeed, more than being worth dying for as Ninoy said and more than being worth living for as Cory showed, we are worth rising for.

As for me and my household, we choose the Lord!


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