In the Gospel of John (Chapter 6), the Lord Jesus reveals Himself as the Bread of Life that came down from heaven. Now, since the Eucharist is truly the summit, the center, the heart and soul of our entire existence on this earth, we are expected to make or renew our existential choice today: for Christ or away from Christ.
Even though the importance of the Eucharist is unparalleled for a believer, it leaves us free to grow more deeply into intimacy with, and trust in the Lord or to find substitutes elsewhere so that we could still cope with the challenges of life. We should keep in mind, though, that the choices we make almost around the clock are made, consciously or without much thought, in virtue of this basic, fundamental choice for Jesus or away from Him.
The readings for the 21st Sunday in Ordinary Time illustrate precisely this as our reflection on Jesus the Bread of Life comes to a close.
Joshua (24:1-2, 15-18) puts that fundamental choice before the 12 tribes of Israel: “If it does not please you to serve the Lord, decide today whom you will serve, the gods your fathers served beyond the River or the gods of the Amorites in whose country you are now dwelling. As for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.”
The fundamental choice has to be made by everyone. It is worth noting that, on this earth, we are meant to serve; we might think that we are the boss or in control of our life, etc. but, in reality, we are called to serve our Creator God and abide by His laws.
Also St. Paul in his Letter to the Ephesians (5:21-32) speaks of free choices and of service: “Be subordinate to one another out of reverence for Christ.” Then he goes on to be quite specific as to the type of service required in married life.
In the Gospel of John (6:60-69), the choice is brought to the fore by Jesus Himself: “Do you also want to leave?”
Specifically, what does it mean to serve the Lord, to pick Him as the Bread of [our] life? Simply put, it means to embrace His commandments, to live by His teachings and to act as He acts on our behalf. It means that, after careful consideration, one realizes at gut level, way beyond what one’s senses, mind, even one’s heart suggests, and in spite of what the world out there recommends, genuine Life is found only with Jesus and in Jesus. However, this remains a big, big gamble which not too many are willing to take.
That’s where faith, unwavering trust and past experiences of the Lord in our life come to our aid. We are here to serve, period. Inspired, nourished, sustained by the Word and by the Eucharistic Bread, those who choose Christ, choose to be so transformed by God’s grace that they become indistinguishable from Jesus, especially at the moment in which they are ready and willing to perform the ultimate form of service: to love each other as He loved us from the cross. Faith assures us that Life is found precisely at the conclusion of this great gamble.
Now, let us see whom or even what those on the other side serve. Well, some serve, imitate and envy the stars of the entertainment world, of the sports world: they spend lots of time and money to shape their lives according to these conventional and fickle models. Others become the slaves of greed, of lust, of pornography, of alcohol, of drugs (some of them thoroughly deadly), of spending sprees, of gambling, even of useless, silly things like amulets, charms, and fortune tellers. Others become the victims to dangerous, violent ideologies (Neo Nazi), street gangs, terrorism. Still others grow increasingly narcissistic and self-absorbed. I am referring to those who worship their body, their physical health, or follow the latest medical fad, a strange cult, etc.
At first, things can go rather well for those who choose to walk away from Jesus and His group. There seems to be more glamour, more fun, more dividends paid to those who choose to distance themselves from Christ and opt to serve other gods. However, at the end, it gets very hard, if not impossible, to free oneself from these forms of cruel slavery, which eventually lead to broken marriages, to awful hurts, to trauma, to inner devastation of one’s heart and, eventually, to death.
At this point, most of us, I guess, are inclined to choose to serve the Lord and to renew their loyalty to Him as the only, genuine Bread of Life. However, a caveat is needed at this point. Let us never underestimate our ability for self-deception.
On the surface, skin deep, we might have chosen Jesus as the Bread of Life. But, especially whenever confronted with hard decisions, we might desert to the opposite camp, or even try to get the most out of the two camps. Outwardly we might go through all the proper motions, say the right things, and feign piety and devotion; but on the inside we might live comfortably with our “favorite sin.” We might go to confession on a regular basis, but never with the intention of turning away from our “favorite sin.” Thus we become phony through and through.
Perhaps the most common favorite sin is a frequent fix on pornography and acts of impurity that, in confession, are repeated over and over again. But there are others, such as severe resentment, attempts at controlling other people’s lives, vindictiveness, and any other form of addiction.
Out of genuine love for Jesus we shall not continue to deceive ourselves. Out of genuine love for Jesus, we shall renew the right fundamental choice. Honestly: can we, today, repeat Simon Peter’s reply to Jesus: “Master, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life” and really mean it?