One of the lesser known facts of the history of the Hebrew Scriptures is that it took a very long time to divorce the Israelites from other gods to the one God, Yahweh. As they moved and lived among others of different faiths, they too usually found themselves “hedging” their bets with monuments and oblations to the local deities.
So in Joshua, poised at the entrance to the Promised Land, we find the people being asked to choose, something they will be asked again and again in the coming generations. Joshua makes a bold statement, one that all of us know well:
As for me and my household, we shall serve the LORD.
This question comes back again at the end of the bread discourse when Jesus, aware that many of his followers are most uncomfortable with his admonition to eat of his flesh and drink of his blood. He sees many of then shaking their heads in disbelief and returning to home and life as they had known it before they met him. What he announced was just too much for them to accept.
I am told that it was even more harsh than we may realize. We translate the word esthio as “eat”. But I am told a more literal translation of the Greek is “gnaw”. Jesus actually suggests that if we are true disciples, we must work hard at ingesting his teachings and understanding them and him.
Clearly a good many of his followers cannot do this, and they slip away to their old way of life.
In an odd way, one surely not meant by those in the Church who determined the scriptural arrangement, Paul in Ephesians can be seen as an example of this difficulty.
Often used as a means of assuring men that they are in fact the “heads” of their homes and that women have no place in the Church, Ephesians 5:21-32 claims that “women should be subordinate to their husbands.” Men in return are to “love their wives as their own flesh.” Notice how the one requires actual physical response. To be subordinate is not a thing you do in you mind, but a thing you do by ACTING. How much easier for the man who must only “in his heart” love his wife.
The point is, Paul (or the one writing as Paul) means for there to be a certain equality but he himself misses that the lot of the woman is by far the harder and the man may proclaim his job complete by mouthing the words. It is sort of like the beloved claim of right wing religious that they “hate the sin but love the sinner.” Most of the “sinners” would argue that little if any love is shown them at all.
But Jesus recognizes that simple formulaic responses are not true discipleship. Dainty eating is not requested. Gnawing is.
And the choice is real. Choose life or choose nothing.
The nothing can be dressed up in finery. It can be mansions or expense accounts, fancy offices and titles. But in the end, these choices provide no sustenance that gives life. They only cover up the dying that is going on inside. Only Christ provides the true food that not only sustains us but brings us everlasting life.
That is why, at the end in Jn 6:68, Peter rather plaintively replies: “Master, to whom shall we go?”
Indeed Peter speaks for us all. We recognize the difficulty of this discipleship. We know it is not easy. We know there are much easier roads to transverse and ones that are undoubtedly filled with more pleasures, but only one gives us the sustenance we need for eternity. Only one.
Which one will you choose?
- Choices (livingontilt.wordpress.com)
- Twenty First Sunday Cycle B (frdoug.typepad.com)
- “Legitimate Rape,” Jesus and “The War against Women” (Twenty-first Sunday in Ordinary Time) (mikerivageseul.wordpress.com)
- Doctrine, Dissent, and the Eucharist (insightscoop.typepad.com)