Do you also want to leave? (John 6:67)
The Lord Jesus asked His Apostles this question after many of the other disciples left and returned to “their former way of life.” The Apostles said, “No, Lord. You have the words of eternal life. We are not leaving.” But a lot of the other disciples left and never came back.
What had the Lord said, which made these other disciples take a walk? He told them that He came from God as the anointed Savior, the One for Whom Abraham, Moses, and all the prophets hoped. He told them that His Body and Blood, shed for the life of the world, would feed the human race unto eternal life.
He demanded an act of faith. Believe in Me. Believe in the divine food I will give. It is the flesh of God made man. Believe.
Some of His disciples could not make this act of faith. “Okay. Yes, he’s an impressive teacher. Yes, he works miracles. But does my worldview have room for a divine man who invites me to eat his flesh? I mean, I’m just a simple working stiff. Can I feature this scary-talking wise man, who calmly, gently, and lovingly insists that my sins will cost Him His life, but He will rise again and establish a Temple in heaven? Can I feature this? Not really. I like hamburgers, sleeping late on the weekends—all the normal stuff. I like watching t.v. I’m not cut-out for what this Nazarene preacher has in mind. Time to go back to the way things were before.”
The “former way of life.” To leave Christ for the “former way of life.” What exactly did this former way of life entail? Let’s speculate a little. I think we can say three things about the former way of life to which these erstwhile disciples returned.
One: The former way of life involved a relatively vague idea of God. Even if we give the fink-out disciples the benefit of the doubt and imagine that they returned to faithfully practicing their Judaism, there still is no way that their former way of life involved something so breathtakingly precise as the act of faith which the Lord demanded. This man is God. The man staying at the stone house owned by the fisherman Peter’s mother-in-law: He is God. You can talk to Almighty God there in that house, face-to-face, unless He is taking a little siesta.
No: compared to such an unqualified, crystal-clear assertion about God, the former way involved faith only in unclear rules and mysterious promises.
Second: I think we can also say that the former way of life involved lower horizons than those to which the Lord Jesus tried to raise the aspirations of His disciples. Christ promised: I myself will take a throne in heaven, and you can sit at my right and left. You will see God. You will receive mercy, inherit the land, be comforted, be called children of God.
The former way of life did not involve horizons like this. At best, it involved futile aspirations for ritual purity at certain times. It did not involve striving to be a saint.
Thirdly, the former way of life did not involve such stringent demands as Christ made on those who would follow Him. The former way of life did not require the same level of discipline. It did not require the utter self-abandonment of faith. It did not summon a person with the same urgency to a confrontation with evil. The former way of life allowed for compromises that a disciple of Christ could never make.
“Do you also want to leave?” The Lord asked His Apostles, after the others walked out into the dusty Galilean sun.
Lord, You may be demanding. But You have the words of eternal life. To whom else can we go?
Perhaps you remember that we started reflecting on the teachings of the Second Vatican Council. How long ago did the Council begin? Right. Fifty years ago. In “Church years” that means: It just happened. Everything the Fathers taught means as much now as it did in the 1960’s. Perhaps it means even more now. As you might imagine, I have be re-reading the Council’s teachings. I think I first read them about twenty years ago, before I entered the seminary, and I have read them a few times since then. They meant a lot to me when I first read them. They mean a hundred times more to me now.
Somewhere along the line–somewhere between 33 AD and 1962 AD—the whole world returned to the former way of life. Maybe it actually never left it. The reality that the Vatican Council Fathers saw is this:
In 33 AD, the Church of Christ enjoyed the gifts given Her by the Savior, and She had a clear task, namely to share these gifts with the largely hostile pagan world. In 1962—and 2012, too, even more so—the Church enjoys the gifts given Her by the Savior. And She has a clear task, namely to share these gifts with the largely hostile pagan world.
The “former way of life:” 1. Vague—very vague—on God. 2. Pitifully low horizons. 3. Lack of moral and spiritual discipline. The lame, uninspired, noisy, complacent, and unjust pagan world. 33 AD or 2012 AD. The same mess with different names. Our mission field.