August 22, 2021
Jesus has some very interesting things to say about life — attractive points about spirituality that focus on personal fulfillment, the heart of religion, the promise of eternal life. For the people of his day in Jerusalem and Palestine, he was a breath of fresh air.
But let me repeat to you the first sentence of today’s Gospel; today’s passage ends the 6th chapter of St. John’s gospel (a 6-week interruption of our on-going reading of St. Mark’s gospel.)
“Many of Jesus’ disciples who were listening said, “this saying is hard; who can accept it?” and they walked away. Do you remember what Jesus said? “I am the Bread of Life… I am the living bread come down from heaven… the bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world.” He was not inviting us to be cannibals, which many people thought. Jesus was talking about who he was as a person, and that he was the only one who could “feed” us, teach us and motivate us. He would give his life, his flesh, to prove it.
Living 2000 years later, you might know better now what Jesus was talking about than people in the first century. “Of course, we know that he is the bread of life!” Do we?
Remember we do not read the Gospels as if they were historical reports. They are written many years after Jesus lived on earth. They are a summary of his teachings and references to some historical moments (in being written – end of 1st century).
Especially in the latest gospel according to John, a testimony to what was happening to late first century followers of Christ… Various groupings fighting over what Jesus had said and did, the Gospel writer John setting them straight, and people deciding to leave the new people of God, that is what the Latin word “ecclesia” means… in English, the Church… The Church of the first century. There are many people today walking away from the Church — because they don’t like what a priest says, when preaching, or because they cannot trust the Church, or are ashamed because of sexual abuse, who do not want to connect their personal faith in God to a new way to be Church that is less doctrinal and more pastoral, who are interested more in eternal life than with accompanying all kinds of real-life people walking together to a fuller and more wholesome spiritual life.
Why would you leave the Church? Sometimes, leaving the Church is different than leaving Jesus. But if you leave the Church, will you still be in contact with Jesus? Can you do it alone? It seems that some can…
Sometimes, we have all these questions and are confused, but then we do not want to discuss them, to clarify them, to settle them.
We do not know what ever happened to those first late century Christians who walked away from Jesus. We do not know today, either. Sometimes, they go to other Christian churches. Sometimes, they just go it alone. Sometimes, they return to the Eucharist. Sometimes, they return to die in the Church.
“Do you also want to leave?” is that question that Jesus is asking us today. “And over what will you leave?”
It is always interesting to look at the first scripture reading from the Old Testament, which connects us with the Old Testament history of Israel. As the people of Israel are about to enter their new home in the promised land, the successor to Moses, Joshua, asks the people on the journey whether or not they will continue to serve the Lord.
What is left out today from the full text are all the reasons that Joshua gave for serving the Lord. The people said, “far be it for us to forsake the Lord.” That is what they knew Joshua wanted to hear. So, they promised to serve the Lord, but as time unfolded, their promise lasted for a short time.
To follow Jesus in a simple, authentic, and whole hearted way is the work of a lifetime. There was a reason why the Catholic Church did not baptize babies and young children for a long time. Experience taught that adults had to know whom they were promising to follow and to remain in a relationship with Jesus.
It is easy to divorce the Church. Is it as easy to divorce ourselves from Jesus? St. Paul describes Jesus’ relationship with the Church as the marriage between a man and a woman. Do not get lost in the Greek and Roman household codes and customs of the late 1st Century present in the readings today. We live in a completely different cultural setting today with very different attitudes and expectations for how a husband and wife relate today. St. Paul repeats the ancient Jewish understanding of “The two shall become one flesh” and adds the greatest challenge of a husband and wife handing themselves over into each other’s care, as Jesus handed himself over to His Father throughout his life and to his death.
If we really understood what that meant, perhaps we would not be so quick to divorce the Church because of something that was said or done with which a person does not agree. A hasty divorce from the Church does not take into consideration the consequences to me and you and how it affects Jesus. Do I just walk away, without seriously talking about it with a spiritual director or with the person who offended me?
Do you believe that Jesus is the Bread of Life, a physical and spiritual food offering a wholesome wellbeing-ness to us as a person? So how can you just leave?
Do you believe that you have to die to your own self and all your ideas about life in order to enter in the eternal life? That is a serious challenge as well. Are you ready to leave now?
The last remark of Jesus in today’s gospel is the most serious issue of all. Jesus says that he knew from the beginning those who would not believe and the ones who would betray him. And then he made this comment: “For this reason, I have told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted him by my Father.”
To follow Jesus, really and truly, is a gift from Jesus’ Father. It is more than being baptized as a Catholic. It is a personal invitation from God the Father. Have we received the invitation? Have we responded to the invitation? Will our relationship with Jesus be stronger than our desire to walk away?
The question from Jesus today: “Do you also want to leave?” Long after Peter had died, someone remembered the answer that he gave to Jesus: “You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and are convinced that you are the Holy One of God.”
I do not think that the Peter of Jesus’ lifetime could have said those words. Perhaps the Peter who went to Rome and was martyred there could have said them. What about ourselves 2000 years later? How convinced are we that Jesus is the Holy One of God?