The Twenty-first Sunday in Ordinary Time
26 August 2018 at Saint Peter the Apostle, St. Willian & Elizabeth Seton Churches in Naples, FL
Joshua 24, 1-2 & 15-18 + Psalm 34 + Ephesians 5, 21-32 + John 6, 60-69
Now with our final Sunday in John’s sixth chapter, a crisis arises. Given what has been said earlier, it should not come as a surprise to discover that being a disciple of Jesus is more than casually looking for him and eating what he gives. Remember that this is how this crowd came together. They saw a miracle with loaves and fish and they have come looking for Jesus the next day so that they could be fed bread again. Discipleship with Jesus is not casually looking for him and enjoying some physical blessings. It is not about being close and faithful when you want something or feel grateful. It is also about staying close when things go crazy and we don’t understand the how and why of what happens at bad times or times of trial or disappointment. For these people, it is okay when he fed them and healed them. But it was not okay when he told them what to do. Jesus expects faith, obedience, and trust in him in the face of difficulty. He is the only answer for our lives. When the things of this world mean more to us than Jesus, these Gospel verses are about us. When anything else is more important than being here around this altar, Jesus has something to say to us.
The Gospel and Discipleship with Jesus demands a change in lifestyle and it is uncomfortable. Once those followers realized that following Jesus was going to be more than social networking among friends they began to think twice. Once they acknowledge Jesus as the Holy One of God who has the words of everlasting life there is a truth that must either be ignored or accepted. For many it is easier to ignore it and stay in their comfort zone. Once we meet Jesus face to face, we either have to live as he has taught us or get out. There are no other options.
This is what makes it so difficult to live the Gospel in this world. We cannot accept violence of any kind. We stand for the protection of all life from conception to natural death. Execution is not a natural death. We are compelled to work on behalf of the poor and vulnerable. We are expected to welcome strangers. We live lives of mercy and forgiveness, and inclusively welcome everyone regardless of who they are and what they believe. We subordinate ourselves to God and do everything we can to live our lives on God’s terms not our own. We protect this earth, all its creatures, and creation itself as faithful stewards, and we cannot deny that out planet has suffered at our hands. We are called to be humble and walk with justice, promote peace, be poor in spirit and maintain a pure heart.
Regardless of our political views on any of these things, the Gospel view remains unshaken and unquestionable, and that’s a tall order that causes to some walk away and they still do. We may be tempted to walk with them from time to time, or we might try compromising the Gospel by suggesting that Jesus “didn’t really mean that.” The Gospel is always the truth, and it cannot be watered down. Once we embrace that truth, we can say with Peter, “Where else can we go?” The Holy One of God speaks in this place now in this liturgy.
If we know there is no other place to go, and no one else speaks the truth, we look again at our personal lives and ask how closely they reflect the values and ideals of God’s Kingdom. We prioritize our lives so that we give due time and attention to those things that truly matter. We can change destructive and distorted patterns of thinking and begin to see all people as unique and valued children of God. When we do, we will silence those who deaminize others to justify taking their children or turning away those who have nothing to give us. And, just as we make time for exercise and for friends, we can develop a strong life of prayer that keeps us centered and focused and spiritually healthy nurturing in our relationship with God. So, the question he asks then he is still asking: “Are with me or are you just going to go your own way.”