Joshua 24, 1-2. 15-17. 18; Psalm 34; Ephesians 5, 21-32; St. John 6, 60-69
One Easter, a family (Mom, Dad, boy age 9) that seldom went to church, decided to go. After church the Mom said, “I thought the choir was a little off key.” Then the Dad said, “Well, the preacher’s message was bland, too.” Whereupon the boy said, “I thought they put on a good show for the nickel you put in the collection plate.” Sometimes we find a few people come to church and grumble on the way back home without actually opening their hearts and minds to God. In today’s gospel, even though Jesus was sad to see those people leaving him, he let them go. It wasn’t great crowds that excited him, what mattered to him was the authenticity and sincerity of those who stayed.
Joshua succeeded Moses as the leader of the people of Israel. He allotted territories to the various tribes of Israel, in the land of Canaan. He then called a general assembly of the tribes and addressed them. We have one of the striking statements of Joshua as part of our first reading today. Joshua told the people, “If it does not please you to serve the Lord, decide today whom you will serve…As for me and my household, we will serve the Lord”.
Faith has to be personal. Personalization of faith is fundamental and very much needed today. When people are serious about life, they realize that they must choose God or not choose God. There are no other options. “As for me and my family,” said Joshua, “we will serve the Lord.”
In today’s gospel we see the disciples of Jesus were severely challenged when Jesus said, “I am the bread of life.” One group finding Jesus’ words too hard to take left him and no more walked with him. This message of Jesus was just too much. “Unless you eat my flesh and drink my blood, you shall not have life within you.” Way over the top.
Perhaps the disciples thought that Jesus didn’t recognize the popular reaction to his teaching. People were leaving. His mission to change the world would stall if it lost its grass root’s base. So the disciples came to Jesus and said, “This sort of talk is hard to endure. How can anyone take it seriously?” It was time for Jesus to tone things down. It was time for Jesus to become more politically correct and give the people what they wanted to hear.
But Jesus was not interested in being political. He wasn’t about to take a poll on what the people wanted to believe. He was not about to eliminate the gift of the Eucharist because it would take a great deal of faith to accept this belief. He was not interested in compromising the truth. Notice that Jesus did not say, “Come back. I only meant it symbolically.” When the disciple reported the reaction to his teaching on the Bread of Life to him, his answer was, simply, “So, are you going to leave too?”
Faith is not determined by a poll. Truth is not established by the number of people who believe one thing or another. Numbers do not matter. Truth matters. God matters. When Jesus asked the Twelve, “Do you want to leave me too?” Peter made his greatest profession of faith: “Where else are we to go, Lord? You alone have the words of eternal life.”
The very option or possibility of choosing for or against Jesus is repeated over and over again in the modern age. We should resolve to take a stand for Jesus and accept the consequences. We recognize, in our going to Communion, the accepting of that challenge to be totally one with Jesus. When the priest gives us Holy Communion saying, “The Body of Christ”, we respond, “Amen.” That “Amen,” that “Yes,” is not just an act of faith in the Real Presence; it is a total commitment of ourselves to Jesus in the community of which we are members. Christ’s thoughts and attitudes, his values, his life-view must become totally ours, and must govern and shape our lives. Above all, we are to identify with him in the offering of his flesh and the pouring out of his blood on the cross, the symbol of God’s unutterable love for us.
When many of his disciples were leaving him, Jesus turned to the apostle and said, “Will you also leave me?” These words are addressed to us too. It’s not the Lord who leaves us, but we who may leave him. But why would we want to leave the Lord, who alone has the words of eternal life? We need to make our own Peter’s profession of faith. Every Sunday we get a chance to do so. We need the Lord to strengthen our faith. We also need to confirm one another. Let us pray then today, “Lord, confirm our decision to stay with you. Draw us closer to you in bonds of trust, so that we may follow you in love and freedom.”