John 6: 60-69
Among strictly Orthodox Jews there is a real resistance to any association with non Jews. They fear they will be contaminated by any such association. People can be offended by such an attitude but it goes way back in Jewish history. In our first reading we hear Joshua calling the people to make a choice, follow the God of their ancestors or follow the gods of the Amorites. Joshua makes his choice perfectly clear, “as for me and my house we will serve the Lord.”
The Book of Judges tells us that after the death of Joshua the Israelites did what was evil in the sight of the Lord – they abandoned the God who brought them out of the land of Egypt, they followed other gods from among the gods of the people who were all around them. They lusted after other gods and bowed down to them and turned aside from the ways in which their ancestors walked. They learned from experience that they two often allowed themselves to be influences and values from different from their own and thought it necessary to keep to themselves.
Many of us have family members who have left the church. They have not joined other Christian communities, they just left. God and the things of God are on the back burner of their lives. For a lot of good people the church and its structures, the church and its scandals, the church and its hard sayings about birth control, divorce, abortion, euthanasia, the death penalty, its teachings on social justice and its fundamental option for the poor have soured their relationship with the Catholic community. Not just the young, but older Catholics see no value in coming to Mass, receiving the sacraments. At the end of a stressful work week the last thing they want to do is sit in church and be bored silly. They see any religious obligation as an intrusion into time better spend relaxing with their family or enjoying a golf game with friends.
The false god of our time is that of believing that any spiritual dimension of life is personal and private and non binding. Good people can be deeply involved in organized hockey, organized baseball, organized soccer, whatever, but organized religion is a dirty word. Prayer is used only in time of crisis, in time of need. You’ve heard of the man late for an important appointment who couldn’t find a parking space. In desperation he prays to God, ‘find me a parking space and I’ll go to church next Sunday. As he turns the corner there before him is an empty parking spot, he pulls in jumps out of his car, looks up to heaven and says, “forget it, I found one.”
Many parents and grandparents are saddened and disappointed by the choices made by family members. They can see these choices as choices to follow other gods, false gods offering false values. They can’t understand how people can live without the faith. But faith is a life time journey. Our parish motto is, “believing, belonging and becoming.” The most important of these is becoming. Becoming to believe, becoming to belong, and this ‘becoming’ can take a life time.
Our loved ones and family members have echoed the situation in today’s first reading and the gospel – the challenge to make a choice. In the first reading good people made a choice to serve the Lord but fell away from their commitment. In the gospel many of Jesus’ followers made the choice of walking away from His gift of Himself as life giving bread. They walked with Him no more.
We tend to think that our family members, our good friends have given up on God and the church but we have to trust that God, and the church, and we are the church, will never give up on them. We will respect their present choices and pray they come to that moment of grace when, with deep conviction, they can say, “Lord to whom shall we go, we have come to know and believe “You have the words of everlasting life, You are the Holy One of God.” Maybe we can all remember that becoming takes a life time.