Make a choice! Are you with me?
Twenty-first Sunday in Ordinary Time
August 23, 2015
JN 6:60-69

Pollsters weren’t tracking and publishing approval ratings in Old Testament times. But the conclusion of this week’s First Reading from the Book of Joshua would have us believe that his rather sobering message from God was well received by the people. Through the prophet, God put the people on the spot. Make a choice! Are you with me or not? If you want to worship idols…if you are pagans at heart…then go do your thing, but you can’t have it both ways. You can’t say that you are believers but live like pagans.

The people responded decisively: “Far be it from us to forsake the Lord for the service of other gods.

Good for them! But I wonder what happened as the drama of the moment passed, and they were left on their own to actually live their faith in the God of Abraham and Sarah. Is it possible that, as time passed, they began to murmur and grumble? As God’s Law began to weigh on them, maybe they became like Jesus’s disciples who responded to another prophetic and dramatic moment with the all too human attitude: “This is hard! Who can accept this?” Is it possible that, with time, many simply “returned to their former way of life”? There were no pollsters in Jesus’s time, but there was no need. His approval ratings dropped to the point that many who ate the free bread and fish…who followed in hopes of healing…who witnessed mighty deeds…were among the voices shouting out: “CRUCIFY HIM!”

We do have pollsters today measuring public opinion. A few weeks ago, results were published from a Gallup poll tracking Pope Francis’s approval ratings. It is reported that over the past year, the Holy Father’s popularity has dropped significantly, even among Roman Catholics, and especially within the USA. Pundits suggest that this is a result of the recent Papal Encyclical: Laudato Si: On Care For Our Common Home. Among American Catholics, there is an uneasiness about the upcoming Papal visit, anticipating what Francis might say, especially during his address to the joint session of our Congress.

Simply put, even as Jesus’s disciples were “shocked” by His Bread of Life Discourse (John 6), in our society today, many are shocked by The Holy Father’s teaching. Rightly so! While the global environment is certainly the central theme of the document, I would argue it is much, much more. I see it as a global call to all humankind to examine our collective conscience. It’s as if Pope Francis is challenging all humankind in the same way that Joshua challenged Israel so many centuries ago…“If it does not please you to serve the Lord, decide today whom you will serve!” Why wouldn’t we be shocked by that kind of challenge?

We Roman Catholics receive this challenge as a Eucharistic people…chosen and invited to feast on the Bread of Life…and to become what we eat. As a Eucharistic people, we are not only privileged to be God’s special guests, but also recruited to be God’s partners in the work of building the Kingdom. Laudato Si is not only a statement concerning the environment, it is a suggestion as to how we might go about that work of building the City of God. It is a vision of how our world might look should we embrace the challenge.

Does all of this shock you? Does it cause you to murmur…grumble…argue among yourselves? If so…that’s completely understandable because the Encyclical is hard! And so is the Gospel. It’s hard to be a Eucharistic people…because it’s hard to be God!

But…does all of this make you want to leave and return to your “old ways”? I certainly hope not. Where else will you find the Words of everlasting life?