Joshua 24:1-2a, 15-17, 18b
Joshua gathered together all the tribes of Israel at Shechem, summoning their elders, their leader, their judges, and their officers. When they stood in ranks before God, Joshua addressed all the people: “If it does not please you to serve the LORD, decide today whom you will serve, the gods your fathers served beyond the River or the gods of the Amorites in whose country you are now dwelling. As for me and my household, we will serve the LORD.” But the people answered, “Far be it from us to forsake the LORD for the service of other gods. For it was the LORD, our god, who brought us and our fathers up out of the land of Egypt, out of a state of slavery. He performed those great miracles before our very eyes and protected us along our entire journey and among the peoples through whom we passed. Therefore we also will serve the LORD, for he is our God.”
Many of Jesus’ disciples who were listening said, “This saying is hard; who can accept it?” Since Jesus knew that his disciples were murmuring about this, he said to them, “Does this shock you? What if you were to see the Son of Man ascending to where he was before? It is the spirit that gives life, while the flesh is of no avail. The words I have spoken to you are Spirit and life. But there are some of you who do not believe.” Jesus knew from the beginning the ones who would not believe and the one who would betray him. And he said, “For this reason I have told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted him by my Father.” As a result of this, many of his disciples returned to their former way of life and no longer accompanied him. Jesus then said to the Twelve, “Do you also want to leave?” Simon Peter answered him, “Master, to whom shall we go? We have come to believe and are convinced that you are the Holy One of God.”
Today’s First Reading and Gospel both have the theme of deciding if one is going to serve the Lord or serve other gods.
In the First Reading, Joshua meets with the elders and leaders of Israel. He has led them through the conquest of the Promised Land after Moses led them to the eastern bank of the Jordan. Moses was not to lead them across the river. That was left to Joshua. Now, after all that God had done for them and the fulfillment of so many promises, there were still some who clung to the gods of their fathers or were tempted to worship the gods of the new land they occupied. So, Joshua gives them a stark choice. Serve these false gods or serve the God who is God. They insist that they will serve the Lord, for all that He has done for them. Even still, we know the history of Israel and their inconsistent fidelity to God, and God’s consistent fidelity to them.
In the Gospel reading, Jesus has just revealed Himself as the Bread of Life, the Bread sent down from heaven. “Truly, truly, I say to you,” Jesus told them, “unless you eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink his blood, you have no life in you; he who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day. For my flesh is food indeed, and my blood is drink indeed. He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him.” This was too much for some of His disciples. How could Jesus give them His flesh to eat and His blood to drink. The Law given to Moses forbade consuming the blood of animals. Now, Jesus demands that they drink His blood? Many walked away. But, just as it was not for Moses to lead the Hebrews into the Promised Land, so it is not for the Law of Moses to redeem us. It was for Joshua to lead the Hebrews into the Promised Land, and it is for the new Joshua to redeem us (Yeshua is the Hebrew name that translates into both “Joshua” and “Jesus” and means “God saves”.) Yet, in one of the most poignant moments of the Gospels, Jesus turns to the Twelve and asks, plaintively, “Do you also want to leave?” Simon Peter replies, “Master, to whom shall we go?” Isn’t that the truth! Really, who else is there? Those disciples who left returned to their former lives. Simon Peter and the Twelve knew that was not possible for them. They had seen too much, learned too much, experienced too much of Jesus to not realize that there is not merely a prophet like Moses here, but one greater than Moses here. “We have come to believe and are convinced that you are the Holy One of God.”
Decide today whom you will serve. Our world has little interest and not even much tolerance for those who have committed themselves to following Jesus. According to some, if you are a Christian, you are among those who oppress others, or you are the moral equivalent of the Taliban. Of course, we here in the U. S. have it easy compared to our confreres in the Middle East, in China and, now, in Afghanistan. But, persecution is not the only threat to Christians. An even greater threat, especially for Christians in the West who live in relative peace and tolerance, is the temptation to compromise the faith and conform it to political, social, or cultural movements, or simply to set aside or water down the faith in favor of the more traditional worldly temptations of fame, fortune, or pleasure. One might say that Christians in the Middle East are at greater risk of losing their lives, while Christians in the West are at greater risk of losing their souls.
The decision to follow Jesus must have more consequence than simply where one spends an hour on Sunday mornings, or to whom one writes a check on Giving Tuesday. Those who abandoned Jesus because of His hard teaching on eating His Body and drinking His Blood went back to their former lives. For one who knows that there is no one else to go to, there is no going back. It is all or nothing. There is no half-way. One does not compromise with or skimp on the Holy One of God. Whether one is ordained, in religious life, or a layperson, there is the challenge to transform our lives to better reflect the gospel rather than the priorities of this world. That’s not easy. It led each of the apostles, except John, to martyrdom, and it led John to exile. Each of the apostles was prepared to give his life for the faith. It begs the question: What am I prepared to do? In fact, what am I doing because I am a Christian? Would my life be any different if I did not claim to be a follower of Jesus?
Decide today whom you will serve.
Be Christ for all. Bring Christ to all. See Christ in all.