(For the audio version of this blog, please visit: http://brothersinchristcmf.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/08/Mass-Blog-for-the-21st-Sunday-in-Ordinary-time-2021.mp3)

The dictators of this world like to call religion a dictatorship—and then deprive people of the freedom to subject themselves to it. In China especially, people who choose Christ as their leader are committed to “transformation facilities” until they renounce their faith. According to a report from The Heritage Foundation, China’s President Xi regularly brainwashes religious people so they conform to his political goals. “Religious groups deemed to ‘disrupt public order’ face severe monitoring and persecution,” the report states.

Choosing to live by faith is a difficult decision in itself. Christ asks us to believe in, and to do, difficult things in a world whose leaders simply tell you to do what you’re told. Jesus’ own disciples had trouble grasping why he as a King would choose to sacrifice his earthly freedoms by equating himself with bread from heaven that we must consume to ensure eternal spiritual life. Sunday’s Gospel reading from John (Jn 6:60-69) tells us “Many of Jesus’ disciples who were listening said, “This saying is hard; who can accept it?”

Yet we believe in a God who always left that belief up to us—even before He gave us Christ. In Sunday’s first reading (Jos 24:1-2a, 15-17, 18b), the prophet Joshua tells us “If it does not please you to serve the LORD, 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 now dwelling. As for me and my household, we will serve the LORD.”

We serve the Lord by serving each other. Throughout his writings, St. Paul tells us we are parts of a greater whole—and that body of Christ that we consume to become a part of it requires us to be in sync with each other. None of us is more important than the other. In fact, unlike those power-hungry despots who demand subservience, we best serve ourselves by sacrificing our natural desire to dominate others.

“Be subordinate to one another out of reverence for Christ,” Paul tells the Ephesians in our second reading (Eph 5:21-32). … He who loves his wife loves himself. For no one hates his own flesh but rather nourishes and cherishes it, even as Christ does the church, because we are members of his body. For this reason a man shall leave his father and his mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.

These words are infused with spirit and life and make no sense to people locked in the solitary confinements of this world. Humanity has long preferred the tangible prisons our brains can understand to those requiring the faith of our free spirit. The reason our world’s prison guards hate Jesus is because his spirit continues to give life to those who renounce their cages of flesh.

John’s gospel reading concludes that Jesus, sensing his disciples’ doubt, gave them the freedom to choose another leader’s more comfortable confinement.

Simon Peter answered him, “Master, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and are convinced that you are the Holy One of God.”

What a freeing confinement.

–Tom Andel