Bread In the Wilderness

Father Carl Diederichs

The readings given to us on the 21st Sunday of Ordinary Time this year center on the question: whom will we serve? For whom will we give our life? Who has the words of eternal life for us?

The reading from Joshua 24: 1-2a, 15-17, 18b, gives us an opportunity to listen in as Joshua asks the question: “If you are unwilling to serve the Lord, choose this day whom you will serve…As for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.” The people agree with Joshua as they recount how the Lord had brought them up out of Egypt, out of the house of slavery and who did great signs in their sight. It was the Lord who protected them on their journey. So, they say: “Therefore we also will serve the Lord, for he is our God.”

How many of us will eagerly say, along with Joshua: “As for me and my household, we will serve the Lord”? And for that statement not to be cheap or flippant, we need to ask ourselves what does “serve the Lord” mean for me.

The Gospel from John 6: 53, 60-69, gives us the place to go to find out how we are to serve the Lord.   We are to eat Christ’s body and drink His blood, no finessing the statement at all. Unless we do it, we will not have life in us, Jesus says. And if we are faithful and eat and drink at the Welcome Table, we will have “Spirit and Life.” And then we can, with the sustenance of the Eucharist, serve God in ways we never imagined.

But, we like His early disciples, have the option to turn away from Him or say with Peter: “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and know that you are the Holy One of God.”

And if we stay, we will be able to do what Psalm 34 lays out before us: We will be humble and we will be glad, we will be righteous and God will be open to our cry. If we are righteous, God will hear our pleas and rescue us from our troubles. When we are heart broken and crushed, God will save. When we work for justice and peace and are crushed, none of our bones will be broken.

Jesus has the words of eternal life and those words include the Holy Eucharist. We see in the Eucharist a sign of total forgiveness. Even though Jesus is crushed and “eaten” on the Cross and dies, He remains a sign of total forgiveness. Peter says, “You have the words of eternal life.” If we walk with Jesus in this life, we have the great promise that he will remain with us and our lives will be an extension of His.

Our eyes will remain open to the suffering of others. We will serve the Lord not in some obscure way, but by reaching out and helping those in need whether they are family, friends, total strangers or even enemies. Anything less will cheapen our confession that we will serve God. It will become a joke.