In every homily there is, or should be, a “so what” moment. That’s the moment, very often toward the end of the preaching, where the Word that was preached is related to the people who heard it. I try to make every homily answer the question, “So what?” in some way. Maybe it’s a question that the hearers need to answer, or a challenge to the way we live, or a consolation in a difficult time. We believe that the Word of the Lord is living and active, and so it will always answer the question, “So what?” in some way.
Over the past five weeks now, we have been hearing an extended homily of sorts in the Gospel readings. Our Gospels have all been from John chapter six, which is commonly called the “Bread of Life Discourse.” As I’ve mentioned before, John’s Gospel doesn’t have a Last Supper scene where Jesus gives the Eucharist to the Apostles. Instead, John’s Gospel has this discourse, in which Jesus gives the Eucharist to all the people.
It all began, five weeks ago, with Jesus taking five loaves and a couple of fish, and with them feeding thousands of people, and leaving twelve baskets of leftovers. That was quite a miracle! Since then, the people naturally stuck with Jesus, wanting to see more, wanting more bread. But Jesus has been taking the opportunity to preach to them about the Bread of Life. Over the past weeks, he has made it clear that his gift of the Bread of Life was better than the manna Moses gave their ancestors. He made it clear that in both cases it was actually God the Father who gave the people what they needed. He made it clear that he – Jesus – is the way to the Father, that those who eat his Flesh and drink his Blood will have eternal life.
And now it all comes down to the “so what?” piece. Many of the people find the whole image of eating someone’s flesh and blood disgusting, and so they walk away. Others take offense at Jesus telling them that this is the only way they can have eternal life; they take offense that he is telling them that he is God, and so they walk away. So then he turns to the disciples and says, “Will you also leave?” Peter speaks for them and makes a beautiful profession of faith: “Master, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.”
Jesus will ask every single person who wants to follow him the same question at some time: “Will you also leave?” I remember in my young adulthood, before I went to seminary, having a crisis in my own faith. I had been attending Willow Creek – the big megachurch up in Barrington – with my friends. The music was nice and the sermons sounded good. But along the way my pastor called me in and had a come to Jesus with me. I remember he told me, “I know you would never be able to go to the chapel and stand in front of the Tabernacle and say that Jesus wasn’t there.” I took a while to think about that, and one night when I went to Willow Creek they were having their monthly communion. They passed around bread and grape juice and I realized that Father Mike was right: Jesus was in the Tabernacle, not there at Willow Creek, and that I would never be able to live without it.
We all are offered the gift of the Bread of Life. Jesus offers us his true Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity, in the Holy Eucharist so that we might eat of it and come at last one day to Eternal Life. There is absolutely no other way to get there. And yet, we could all think of someone, or several someones, that should be here today. They may have been away for a long time. We know that they are missing out on the Gift beyond all gifts, that they are not getting the Food that strengthens us for what this life throws at us, and gives us the ability to come to eternal life one day.
Maybe they don’t care, or can’t be bothered, or love their sins, or have soccer practice or dance class or sleep in time, or whatever. Maybe they don’t really believe in the Eucharist. Like those marginal disciples in the Gospel reading today, they may have decided it was all just too hard, too much to take, and have returned to their former way of life. But for us who remain, Jesus looks at us, deep into our eyes and our souls, and says to us: “So what? What about you? Will you also leave?”
We’ll have to live with the answer to that question for a very, very long time.