Sunday, August 23, 2009

“To whom would we go?", Peter said. You are the Holy One of God!"

The religion now known as “Christianity” was originally called “The Way”, and it is referred to this way several times by Luke in the Acts of the Apostles It is not a system of thought composed by a philosopher, or a handbook of behavior compiled by a moralist. It is a revelation from God, who created us out of love, and who invites us to follow a path that leads us to eternal happiness with him. It is a path which can be difficult and dangerous. Think of Mary and Joseph fleeing to Egypt with the newborn child, at the beginning of Luke’s gospel, and of that infant, now grown to manhood, carrying a cross from the palace of Herod the younger to Mount Calvary, some three decades later.

In today’s First Reading (Joshua 24:1-2a, 15-17, 18b), Joshua, having finally led the children of Israel into the Land of Promise, summons the elders, the leaders, the judges and the military officers and offers them a choice: Serve the gods of the Egyptians, or the gods of the Amorites, or the LORD, who brought us here. As for me and my family, we will serve the LORD.

Joshua reminds the people of Israel of their past, but he invites them now to look forward. The people reply that they too will serve the LORD, who has made them victorious. But, the entire Old Testament records that, in spite of the guidance they received from the prophets, they really were not very faithful to serving the one true God, but often turned to the worship of false gods – not only the gods of other nations, but the most common and most dangerous of idols: serving their own selfish interests at the expense of their duties toward their neighbors, ignoring the two great commandments: I am the LORD your God; you shall love me with all your heart, and mind and might; and you shall love your neighbor as yourself.

In today’s gospel, (John 6:60-69) Jesus offers his disciples a similar option. At the conclusion of his teaching Jesus tells the people that He is the true Bread of Life. Some of the disciples find these words offensive, and they choose to leave, and return to their former ways of thinking. They had eaten their fill of bread, but they cannot open their minds and hearts to something even more wonderful, but that goes beyond seeing, touching and tasting; beyond understanding, to believing what they cannot understand.

Most of them leave, but some stay, including Simon Peter. So Jesus puts the question to them: “Do you also want to leave?” For Peter, there was only one response: “To whom would 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.” But later, the same Peter, fraught with fear for his own life, denies Jesus three times: “I don’t even know the man!”

Clearly, the profession of faith in Jesus is more easily said than done. It is a commitment that must be repeated, day by day, as we walk along whatever path life takes, until we reach our destination in the Father’s house.

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