Twenty-first Sunday in Ordinary Time (August 26, 2018)
Today brings to conclusion the bread of life summer insertion. We have seen in the last two weeks, Jesus the bread of life as food for thought; then as real food, real presence. The liturgical fact that the first reading is connected to the Gospel reading in theme is very apparent today.
Joshua had been a boy when Israel began its long march to freedom across the desert. Moses was his hero: how could Joshua have imagined that one day he would be Moses’ successor and have to confront the children of Israel . We hear: “if it does not please you to serve the Lord, decide today whom you will serve: the gods of our fathers beyond the river or the gods of the Amorites in whose country you are now dwelling?” Joshua adds his personal answer and commitment: “As for me and my household, we will serve the lord.”
Failure to say “yes” to Joshua’s challenging question would have shown tremendous ingratitude for all that god had done in freeing the Jews from slavery in Egypt and guiding them to freedom in a new land.
Today, in our appendix to the bread of life discourse from john, we hear that after the discourse many followers of Jesus strongly reacted to his teaching on real presence: “This is a hard saying; who can accept it?”
We hear: “As a result of this, many of his disciples returned to their former way of life and no longer accompanied him.”
Because many of his followers were leaving, Jesus, like Joshua many years earlier, had to confront directly his remaining followers on his critical teaching on Eucharist. He asked the twelve, “Do you also want to leave?” With this pointed question, he drew a line in the sand. Are you with me, or not? Defecate or abdicate. Fish or cut bait.
During Jesus’ life, peter seemed to put his foot in his mouth more than anyone else. But, peter’s answer today hits the nail right on the head. Peter answered with those never-to-be-forgotten words: “Master, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and are convinced that you are the holy one of God.” Perfect. “We have come to believe and are convinced.” The twelve have been eating the sapiential bread of life, the teachings of Jesus. In their time together, Jesus has given them much to think about, much to chew on. They trusted, [had faith], Jesus was the bread of life. They “believed,” as Peter said. And Peter added, they “are convinced,” they “know.”
They did not trust as much as they would later. They did not know as much as they would know later. They trusted and knew enough to stay with Jesus. Trusting and knowing comprise the process of us pilgrim followers.
At the beginning of this discourse, Jesus fed 5000 with some barley loaves and fish. Their understanding of him as a compassionate, holy man grew. They proclaimed him as “the prophet” - an important step forward on the faith journey.
Spiritual growth is trusting Jesus [faith] and coming to a deeper understanding. If we are convinced, as peter was, that Jesus is the holy one of God, then we believe that there is no better place to go apart from his presence. Progress in any relationship happens when we deepen trust and knowledge of the other. Is it not that way with friends, spouses? As time passes in good relationships, we more deeply trust the other based on our positive experience, and we know them better. A wonderful, mutual consciousness evolves.
This understanding is new wine that did not sit well with the departing followers of Jesus whose baggage was old wine skins; they broke ranks from Jesus with burst wine skins.
Those who believe and accept the truth of Jesus’ real presence in Eucharist participate and increasingly experience his presence in that intimate moment of Holy Communion. We have opportunity in that moment of union to pour out our hearts to him and listen. Sometimes, he speaks to us with non-verbal answers that come to us as at no other time. Sometimes, there is just silence. Silence is perfectly acceptable for those who love each other.
The departing ex-followers made a statement and asked a question: “This is a hard saying. Who can accept it?” like Joshua and peter and the other apostles, I answer in faith: “I can. I do.”