What a way to open a Gospel, with the line: “This saying is hard; who can accept it?” And then it goes on to talk about the consequence of there being something very difficult for them. Ok, but what exactly was that hard saying?
How many of you came to Mass last Sunday? How many of you remember the Gospel reading? It turns out that it contained the mystery saying, the one that the disciples are talking about this week. The saying was…
… it was…
… let’s come back to that.
The first reading and the Gospel reading today are about crises in the Church. According to the dictionary, a crisis is a time of great difficulty or danger. Interestingly, the definition also states that it can be a time when an important decision must be made. In light of everything we have heard over the past few weeks, I don’t think it would be too much of a stretch to say that today the Catholic Church is in crisis.
We have heard and read about serious flaws, scandal and sin. We should, first and foremost, pray that the victims of these mistakes experience hope and healing. Because of those mistakes, they carry a heavy, heavy weight.
Hope and healing. Those are the things we all need most of all. Whenever there is a crisis, including a personal one, hope and healing are what we pray for.
In the first reading, Joshua is confronting the Tribes of Israel and warns that they have become too comfortable with the ways of the local popular culture. He is calling them back, asking them to remember who they are and reminding them who they must follow. He states, rather famously: “As for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.” I have a sign hanging in my home with these very words on them so that I am constantly reminded that I too have this same choice.
In the Gospel, the followers of Jesus heard something very difficult… the hard saying… and then right after, the reading continues: “As a result of this, many of his disciples returned to their former way of life and no longer accompanied him.” They left, they went home, they were followers of Jesus no longer. This was a decision point for them, a crisis. Some chose Jesus, some did not.
What was the mystery saying that was so difficult for them? The answer is that was the commentary when Jesus described himself as the bread of life. Note that he said things like:
“Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life.”
“For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink.”
If Jesus was talking symbolically only, then why was the saying so difficult? Why did some leave? Why did some conclude that this was the one hard thing about following Jesus that would prevent them from continuing onward with him?
This was all, of course, about the Eucharist and Jesus knew from the start that it would be a major point of separation for his followers on that day and then into the future. It is a major point of separation for Christians today.
We all stand at that same fork in the road where there is crisis and we have to choose. We can follow Jesus and be a Eucharistic people and say, as did the faithful on that day: where else would we go… or… we can say that this is too hard a thing and then move on with our lives.
Hope and healing comes from one place and one place only.
This Church, our Church in crisis, is the Eucharistic Church. It has flaws and scandal and sin. Just like the very first group of followers who Jesus hand chose and which had flaws and scandal and sin.
It seems that some in our Church lost sight of the simple truth that it exists in order to point people toward and not away from Jesus. That every single choice it makes is for this very reason and no other. Thankfully our faith is about following Jesus and not about following flawed, scandalous and sinful people… as we all are.
This is our way forward. This is why I stay. Because where else would I go?