Homily: To Whom Shall We Go
Joshua 24:1-2a,15-17,18a Ephesians 5:21-32 John 6:60-69 The Message
Our Gospel today brings to completion John’s beautiful Bread of Life discourse. Jesus has told the crowd that has eaten of the multiplied loaves, “I am the bread that has come down from Heaven; whoever eats my flesh will live forever .,, for my flesh is True Food”.
His disciples, we are told, responded, “This saying is hard; who can accept it? Jesus responds, “Does this shock you? The words I have spoken to you are Spirit and Life. But there are some among you who do not believe” As a result of this, many of his disciples returned to their former way of life and no longer accompanied Him.”
Jesus then turns to the Twelve and says, “Don’t you also want to leave?” And Peter’s reply to them all of them is, “Master, where would we go? You have the words of Eternal Life.“
How courageously direct and honest Jesus is. They say, “This is too hard; who can accept it?” and Jesus’ reply is not that of many of today’s politicians: “I’m sorry, I misspoke. What I really meant to say was…” Or even “Now wait, you misunderstand me. Let me re-explain it differently and more clearly…”
No; Jesus response is, “Well, I’m sorry if that shocks you, but that’s the way it is.”
Jesus did not try to conform the truth to what people would accept; he expected the people to accept the truth that he conveyed. No wonder, then, that many of those following Jesus now desert him.
And at this point we need to be careful, for it’s always tempting to write off those who gave up on Jesus as people too stupid or lazy or unfaithful to believe. But note that John calls these folks not simply “the crowds,” as in earlier passages, but rather “disciples.” The people in today’s reading who now desert Jesus are precisely those who had, in fact, believed in Jesus, those who had followed him and had given up much to do so. But now, finally, after all their waiting and watching and wondering and worrying, they have grown tired, and they can no longer see clearly what it was about Jesus that attracted them to him in the first place, and so they leave…and who can blame them?
Seriously. Are we really all that different? I mean, which of us has not at one time or another wondered whether we have believed in vain? During the dark of the night, perhaps, watching and praying by the bedside of a child or grandchild in the hospital, wondering why in the world he is so sick and whether he’ll ever recover. Or in the early part of the morning, waking up alone and wondering why your spouse has left you and whether she’ll return. Or at noon time, standing in line at the unemployment office and wondering how you ended up here and worrying whether you’ll ever find another job. Or in the latter part of the day, while cooking supper and thinking about your family — so full of ill-will toward each other–and wondering why things have not turned out the way you hoped.
At these times–and my word, but if we’re honest we have to admit that there are so many of these kinds of times in this life that we lead – at these times aren’t we tempted to conclude that the promises we trusted were empty and the faith we once held was misplaced? Oh, perhaps we don’t renounce or desert the Lord openly–we just don’t make the extra effort to get to church regularly, or we reduce what we’ve been giving, are more reluctant to help others, or simply stop praying until, in the end, we end up just like the disciples in today’s reading.
And so, I think, we can probably conclude that, while the picture St. John draws for us in today’s Gospel is not a pretty one, it’s probably a pretty realistic portrait of disbelief, of disciples then and now for whom the life of faith has become too hard. But…but at the same time
St. John’s picture is also one of belief, of courage, and of faith. For as John writes, after many disciples drew back and no longer followed him, “Jesus said to the twelve, ‘Will you also go away?’ And Simon Peter answered him, ‘Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of Eternal life.'”
Where, I’ve often wondered, do Peter and the other twelve get their faith? Or to put it another way, what makes them different from all those who gave up on Jesus and went away? Now in asking this question we must, again, be careful. For as easy as it is to write off those other disciples as stupid or blind unbelievers, ‘we should not pretend to imagine Peter and the rest as flawless Faith Giants. These disciples were also plagued by doubt and fear. They suffered at times from an over abundance of pride or a lack of courage, and they, too, eventually deserted Jesus — and at the very time he needed them the most.
So if they aren’t smarter or more faithful or more courageous or, in short, any better than the rest of Jesus’ disciples–then or now—then what it is that sets them apart?
One thing. Listen, again, to Peter: “Lord,” he replies to Jesus’ question, “to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.” Peter, you see, knew where to look. That’s it; that’s what makes him and the other eleven different–it’s not their brains or their ability or their status or even their faith: they simply know where to look. To Jesus; and they keep their eyes fastened on him.
And this is what makes church so important, so vital. Because each and every week, through the preaching of the Word and the sharing of the sacraments, and seeing those who like ourselves are struggling, both with life’s difficulties and struggling to believe, we are offered again the Word of eternal life. We’re offered again, that is, the chance to be encountered by Jesus and his living Word. Through preaching, and people and through the sacraments, Jesus’ real presence is made manifest in our world, and we are pointed to the one place amid all the tumult and upset of this world and life we share that we can look to and know for sure that we will find God in Christ there…for us.
And yet each of us knows just how difficult at times it can be to see God there. When nature turns violent or government goes corrupt, when the family is a place of discord and the workplace one of division, when all the things we usually count on come up empty and we no longer know where to turn, then it is that we may hear Jesus calling us back to see God clearly at work for us through God’s mighty Word in the Faith that shows indelibly through those struggling to believe, offering us again the promise of forgiveness, acceptance, meaning, and the fullness of life. Rev. David Lose, Day One