As we near the end of our journey through chapter six of John’s Gospel, we come to the decision point.
When Jesus declares that He is the bread of life and that we must eat His Body and drink His Blood, His disciples are brought to another decision-making point. It isn’t the first and it won’t be the last, but this decision is pivotal in their journey to be His disciples. Instead of hearing this Gospel as simply a recollection of the past, we might take the opportunity to make a decision for ourselves about our commitment to Jesus.
We aren’t the first and won’t be the last to be faced with decisions about where to place our allegiance or our trust. Joshua brought together the tribes of Israel at Shechem and committed his household to follow God and not be diverted by any other gods. He, like us, was surrounded by many possible gods to worship. When we think about idolatry we often think about things or possessions or other religious practices.
What seems obvious in the Scriptures that we have heard in the past several weeks is that often times the “god” we worship is our own understanding and our own obstinate will. We have a difficult time trusting when Jesus asks us to move beyond our accepted way of life. Anything that doesn’t agree with what we already believe and do or anything that calls us to sacrifice something dear to us is heard with suspicion and cynicism. Isolation with those who always agree with us is a form of idolatry. Our hard-heartedness and stiff-necked reactions are a form of idolatry. Our always needing to be in control and always needing to be right is idolatry. You can verbalize your own forms of idolatry because Jesus is asking us if we will leave Him like many others have. We have left Him for other gods in the past. We are all sinners.
In the midst of this summer’s respite, we might examine for our families and households “to whom shall we go” if not to Jesus. Even though it is summer, are we still finding our way to worshipping God in Eucharist? Are we finding ways to think of the common good and not just ourselves and those like us? Are we finding ways to be generous beyond our comfort zone? Are we taking time to give thanks for our blessings or are we becoming greedy, possessive and selfish? Are we continuing to be a people of hope and joy or have we given our spirits to cynicism, negativity and divisiveness?
We all need nourishment for our journey of faith. The Bread of Life, Jesus, is available to us. We might be spoiled and calloused in our gratitude for the Eucharist. We have all kinds of stories from our past and present worldwide Catholic life that tell of the length that people go to receive the Bread of Life. Some people wait for weeks or months just for a priest to share the Bread of Life. We sometimes don’t share in the Eucharist because of busy schedules with sports and travel. To whom else shall we go? I think we know!
Don’t wait for another moment to witness to your commitment to Jesus. We should not settle for “cheap grace” as Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote, but for “costly grace” that involves inconvenience, sacrifice and obedience to the Law of Love. We are always tempted to go back to our former way of life before our encounter with Jesus. Don’t let shame, embarrassment or guilt stop you or discourage you. Take a new step to embrace the Bread of Life.
Father Wester is pastor of All Saints Parish in St. Peters.