Wednesday, August 19, 2009

To Whom Can We Go?

This week's scriptures are Joshua 24:1-2a, 14-18 and John 6:56-69.

These two passages can be viewed as either very much alike; or as radically different.

In her commentary on the passage from John DawnOtoni Wilhelm makes the point that Petere's, "Lord, to whom can we go?" can be interpreted as either an expression of despair or an expression of exultation.

The passage from Joshua is a well-formed covenant ceremony for a triumphant people. Joshua sounds out the challenge, "Chose you this day....but as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord." And the people respond, "Far be it from us that we should forsake the Lord" and go on to recount the victories of God in bringing their ancestors out of Egypt, protecting them along the way, and driving out their enemies before them. Because of this they say, "Therefore we also will serve teh Lord, for he is our God."

The passage from John is most often read the same way. Peter's response to Jesus' question "Do you also wish to go away?" is heard as a shout of exaltation, "Lord,to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and know that you are the Holy One of God." The problem with that reading is that it is to read it back through the lens of the resurrection and 2000 plus years of the Christian Church's growing political and economic influence.

But there is another way to look at this passage. Jesus asks His question of the disciples in the face of His abandonment by many of his disciples. One can almost see Jesus sitting there, head down, as He contemplates this. He lifts his head, looks at those who are standing there, and asks, "Do you want to go away too?" And Peter...Peter doesn't miss either the difficulty of what Jesus has said, or the impact of the response of Jesus' listeners or the loss of the disciples. Perhaps there is catch in his voice, "Where else could we go?....You have the words of eternal life." Maybe Peter wished it was otherwise; that the "words of eternal life" had come from someone who wasn't so demanding, so offensive, so devisive. Yet give them their due, those disciples stayed. They stayed even when they didn't understand. They stayed even when others left. They stayed right up to the point where Jesus was arrested.

I have to admit that I am often more like Peter in the second reading. I wish it was easier. I wish that faith didn't put us in such strange positions. And most of all, I wish I could embrace a 'we know the good guys will always win' triumphalism. But the truth is that while I do believe that the final word will be God's, and that this word will be Love; I also know that too often in the here and now things are often more difficult.

And, like Peter, I know that there are other places to go. There are other values, other world views, other values. But I also know, even in the darkest moments of my heart, that the words of eternal life are only found in one place. Because, as Peter said, "We have come to believe and know that you are the Holy One of God"....even when it seems like things are at their worst.

And so the hymn can sing:

"This is my Father's world
"O let me ne'er forget
"that though the wrong seems oft so strong
"God is the ruler yet"

and we can be reminded of the words found on a wall where folks had been hiding during the holocaust:

"I believe in the sun, even when it is not shining
"I believe in love, even when I am alone
"I believe in God, even when he is silent"


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