Brief synopsis of the readings: In the Book of Joshua he calls everyone together and asks them if they will serve the Lord or the pagan gods. He told them: “As for me and my House, we will serve the Lord.” Those gathered told him that God brought them out of slavery and delivered them to their home. “We too will serve the Lord, for he is our God.” In John’s Gospel many of Jesus’ followers found his words “intolerable.” Recognizing this, Jesus told them that his words come from the spirit. Hearing this, many disciples left and refused to follow Jesus. Jesus then asked those who remained if they wanted to leave and Peter responded: “Lord, who shall we go to? You have the message of eternal life, and we believe; we know that you are the Holy One of God.”
OK, let me say this: the placard industry has made thousands of dollars on this quotation from Joshua: As For Me And My House, We Will Serve The Lord. Full disclosure, we have it on one of side doors in our house.
That said, I have to admit I’ve always found this quotation a little troubling. While I like that Joshua and his family have chosen the Lord, there’s a part of me that finds this line a little smug. It’s almost like he’s saying: “I’m good with God. The rest of you are on your own.” I grew up Catholic where most of my neighbors were Baptist and I heard again and again how salvation depended solely on this passage and others. Even today I hear that we need to “accept Jesus Christ as our personal Lord and Savior.”
I was taught, and still believe, that salvation doesn’t depend entirely on an intellectual ascent. I can’t believe that salvation is open to evil people who accept Jesus Christ but denied to Gandhi and other good people who weren’t Christians. Frankly, I believe salvation is open to all who desire salvation, but I also believe that Christianity calls us to accept hard truths and make unpopular choices.
And I think today’s Gospel from John backs me up. In the last few weeks we’ve read about the Eucharist and how Jesus’ listeners have struggled to understand what he is talking about. This confusion came to a head in today’s reading as several followers didn’t believe anyone could accept Jesus’ words and they left. Simon Peter who often stumbled, grabbed the good news today. He echoed the followers of Joshua and professed belief because nothing else made sense.
Many of us live in a place where Christianity’s acceptance does not often challenge us. When I lived in the South Carolina I noticed that the word “christian” often meant “good.” The nearby college campus hosted a chapter of the “Fellowship of Christian Athletes” and held no understanding that this excluded Jews, Muslims, or Atheists. When asked about others joining their group, they responded that “all they have to do is accept Jesus Christ into their hearts and they’re good.”
But examination of Jesus’ teachings should scare us a little, and we should recognize that Christianity isn’t for the faint of heart. Following Jesus calls us to care for people who aren’t cared for, feed people whose hunger others think are their own fault, visit prisoners who have committed crimes, and welcome outsiders who broke laws to be here.
In other words, we Christians are called to chose a different path. And that path can cost us. When I was a child and a teenager I was warned against “peer pressure.” I was told that classmates whose approval I sought would offer me tobacco, alcohol, and drugs and I was expected to stand up to them and refuse to accept their approval.
The need to refuse peer pressure didn’t end when I became an adult, and in many ways it became worse. The desire to be accepted or liked can call us to make poor choices. In the past few years we’ve read in horror that the water supply in Flint, Michigan had unacceptable levels of lead. This posed a health crisis to everyone in Flint, but particularly to Flint’s children. Lead in the water causes permanent brain damage in developing brains; an entire generation of children in Flint will live with this decision for the rest of their lives.
So how did it happen? Why did nobody in Flint, who knew about this, blow the whistle? I suspect that they succumbed to peer pressure, to remain silent when justice demanded that they speak up. In the same way that Jesus’ ex disciples found his words too hard, these employees in Flint could not conjure up the courage to report this.
And I can’t help but acknowledge that I write these words against the backdrop of the revelations we’ve learned from the dioceses in Pennsylvania.
I’ve written about this before, but the recent news about child sexual abuse in Catholic dioceses in Pennsylvania grieves us all. Bishops and priests knew about sexual abuse when and shortly after it happened. Sometimes they were told by the offenders and sometimes they were told by the victims. With few exceptions they did not act with courage. They didn’t advocate for those who were abused, and frankly they didn’t even advocate for the abusers. Instead they bowed to the pressure to “make it go away” in the false belief that their silence would protect the institution of the Catholic Church.
We are followers of Jesus Christ. We and our houses are called to follow the Lord. Simply put, there are times in our lives when we are called to act with courage. That means we are sometimes called to be pains in the neck, problem employees or family members, and sometimes we are called to trade our popularity and social standing and advocate for those who need our courage.
Let us pray for all those who depend on our courage, and let us pray that we have the courage to do the right thing.