But if serving the LORD seems undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your forefathers served beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you are living. But as for me and my household, we will serve the LORD.” Joshua 24:15
Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. John 6:68
“Sometimes it is difficult. There is the allure of another or another place. But we know where we belong and to whom we belong. And when we forget those answers, we find ourselves time and again hearing the word, “decide!”
Parents can make difficult demands of us. As can our spouses, our jobs, our churches. I think most people can think back at a time when there was the childhood allure to “run away from home” or to throw up our arms and walk away from someone we love. The demand to be in these communities is great and things are so much easier away from these. And then to have to follow where we are lead by these. How much easier just to be in unchallenged places and with those who give us only shallow things. Community in its truest form is never a simple thing and neither is the call to follow into the fierce landscapes.
But from these come that which supplies our need and gives us joy and show us the way. And just as this is the way of life, it is the way of the Living God.
The challenge in today’s OT reading was a difficult one. It demanded immediacy and the call to serve the LORD was not even seen as necessarily desirable. And it was not that the children of Israel even had a choice but to serve. They could walk away from God or could stay, but if they walked away it could only be into the arms of another god whose cold embrace was stone or wood.
From Shechem, the children of Israel replied. They would have no wooden idol or stone edifice. They would serve the Living God who sent them a pillar of fire by which they would be led through the dark Sinai nights. And were the pillar not enough, they would be called again and asked if they would follow the Living Father by partaking of the flesh of the One He sent.
The words in Capernaum were difficult ones. The listeners knew that their ancestors had chosen the Living God over the idols which had long ago crumbled. They knew too that they ate the manna which kept them alive as they wandered in the desert and foreboding highlands. But now the challenge was too much for too many. For now they would not only partake in God’s provision, they were asked to actually partake of God himself. This time the bread that gave life was the bread that gave eternal life, nothing less than the body and blood of God become man, the Holy One himself.
And as Joshua said decide today who you will serve, Jesus (whose Hebrew name is Joshua) asked the twelve who stayed, if they too would leave in hearing this difficult call.
Yes the call is difficult. Think of what it means. When a child returns after running away from their parents, they come again to the place of love and support, but they also know deep within that it too means they must partake in and breathe in deep the life of the family. When a man and woman stand together and take the vows of matrimony, they pledge to forsake all others to partake in and breathe in the life of their relationship. In such cases those involved are saying, “where else and to whom would we go.”
We know these words and in them we know difficulty and joy. And just as children know there is no other place to go but to the arms of loving parents and the bride and groom know the same of one another, Peter spoke the greatest truth when he replied to Jesus in this same way.
“To whom shall we go?” This is Peter’s great rhetorical reply to Jesus’ wonderfully rhetorical question. And who else is there to go to? The child does not run into the arms of a stranger, but to the parents who have watched over them. The bride and groom forsake all others to be with the one who has loved and sustained them. The children of Israel refused the cold embrace of nonliving and unloving idols for the care of the Living God. And now we, along with Peter and the saints, are called to answer the question again and to say Yes to Him to whom we belong knowing like the child, the bride and groom, and the children of Israel there is no other one to whom we belong.
And to belong is to breathe deep the life of a relationship and to take in the one to whom we belong. We do it at the truest moments in our earthly relationships and we are called also to do so in our truest and heavenly relationship when in our lives of prayer we talk to the Living God and when in the sacrament we take in the real presence of Him to whom we belong and whom is the only one we can go to.