OT XXI Jos 24:1-2a, 15-17, 18b; Eph 5:21-32; Jn 6: 60-69
A group of Christians gathered for a secret prayer meeting in Russia, at the height of the persecution of all Christian churches. Suddenly the door was broken by the boot of a soldier. He entered the room and faced the people with a gun in his hand. They all feared the worst. He spoke. “If there’s anyone who doesn’t really believe in Jesus, then, get out now while you have a chance.” There was a rush to the door. A small group remained – those who had committed themselves to Jesus, and who were never prepared to run from him. The soldier closed the door after the others, and once again, he stood in front of those who remained, gun poised. Finally, a smile appeared on his face, as he turned to leave the room, and he whispered “Actually, I believe in Jesus, too, and you’re much better off without those others!”
At least once in a while thoughts cross our minds, especially these days, that if all the fake Church leaders and believers left the church, it would have grown much stronger and faster. Like weeds among the wheat they hamper the growth and fruit bearing of the Church.
Today we, too, are challenged to decide whom we will serve. In the first reading Joshua challenges the Israelites to decide whom they will serve, the gods of their fathers, the gods of the Amorites in whose country they were then dwelling or the God of Israelites Who had done so much for them. As Joshua spoke to his followers, Jesus speaks to the twelve apostles and gives them the option of leaving him or staying with him.
“This teaching is difficult. Who can accept it?” It was Jesus’ disciples complaint. They were offended by Jesus’ language — his imagery — the metaphors he used in his Eucharistic discourse. It was Jesus’ dramatic way of saying that we must accept him totally, without any conditions or reservations. His thoughts and attitudes, his values, his life-view must become totally ours.
G.K. Chesterton, a Faithful British Catholic said: “The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting. It has been found difficult; and left untried.” These days we hear many youngsters leaving the Catholic Church for mega Churches. Why? Is it because the Catholic Church is not appealing to them? Yes and no. Yes, because they find no novelty in the liturgy. They find the same prayers every day and more rigid discipline which is not the same with other Churches. Once you begin the Catholic Mass the prayers go by rote, as if you turned on a tape recorder. Even if my mind is miles away I can respond to the prayers. No personal effort is needed to respond to the prayers, if you have been a Catholic for long time. But, more than that why they leave the Catholic Church is because, it is very hard to live as a true Catholic. As Chesterton said: It has been found difficult and left untried. As the disciples of Jesus’ time said: It is a hard teaching. Who can follow it.
The Gospel is offensive and scandalous because God’s ways are not our ways. It is offensive because it is costly. When Christ calls us to eat his Flesh and to drink his Blood, he is inviting us to participate in his death. The Christians who first heard this Gospel experienced persecution. They knew martyred Christians, and they knew Christians who had avoided martyrdom by compromising their Faith. The Gospel with no offense would be like a surgeon with no scalpel — having no power to heal. Christ and his cross, truly revealed, will always be an offense, except to the redeemed. The total assimilation of Jesus’ spirit and outlook into our lives is very challenging. And it was a challenge that some of Jesus’ disciples were not prepared to face. The reason Jesus says: “There are among you some who do not believe, do not trust me.” Faith is not simply a set of ideas to be held on to. It is a living relationship with a Person and His vision of life. It is a relationship that needs to grow and be deepened with the years. It is a relationship that has constantly to be re-appraised in a constantly changing world.
It is high time that we also reflected to find out where we stand, as his followers. When Jesus challenged his followers, Peter's determination was expressed. His words to Jesus are resounding through the centuries: “To whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.”Peter's loyalty was based on a personal relationship to Jesus. There were many things that he did not understand. But there was something in Jesus that held him fast to Jesus; that was his experience of Jesus. In the last analysis, Christianity is not a well set doctrine of dogmas, not a credible philosophy, not a well-defined Christology, but simply a personal relationship with Jesus. This personal relationship is deepened and strengthened through the Eucharist. That is why Jesus said unless you believe, and eat the flesh of the Son of Man you have no life in you.
When we are able to have a personal experience, we will become heroes of Jesus like Peter and other faithful Apostles. Let’s pray that like Peter may we have the courage to say everyday: Lord where shall I go, you have the words of eternal life.