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August 24, 2003

"Do you also want to leave?"

(John 6: 60-69 )

We're halfway through the story of Jesus, and apparently, it dawned on dozens of Jesus' disciples that this person they have been following is serious, that he's not fooling around, that he's not just talking about feeling good, but about their total conversion, that he wants them to find God in him, that he wants them to change their lives and change the world, that he expects everyone to love everyone, forgive everyone, serve everyone, make peace with everyone, give up our lives for one another and take up the cross of nonviolent love in opposing evil.

So they say, "Forget it. We're not going to do that. That's way too much, way too hard." And they walk away from Jesus, which must have hurt him very much. So he turns to the original twelve and asks them one of the most touching, heartbreaking, and haunting questions in the Gospel: "Do you also want to leave me?"

So Simon Peter speaks up, which is always trouble, and I think he gives a very lame answer, like, "Well, do you have any better ideas about who we should follow?" It's not exactly a ringing endorsement of support. He doesn't say, "O Lord, we love you, we'll never leave you, we always want to be with you." He's not like Joshua in the first reading who says, "As for me and my people, we will serve the Lord."

So I'd like to look at three things: how part of us leaves Jesus, how Jesus never leaves us, and how to stay with Jesus forever.

We all know people in our families and friends who have walked away from Jesus, not just from the church, but from God. There is probably something in the Gospel that is very hard for each one of us, too, and probably at some point, we too have walked away from Jesus or rejected God. Maybe, we're fooling ourselves and we're trying to have it both ways, pretending to follow Jesus but really doing what we want; or we're trying to make a deal with God and we say to ourselves, "Ok. God, I go to church every Sunday, so leave me alone for the rest of the week," instead of trying to walk with Jesus every day and doing the hard things that the Gospel of love and peace calls for.

But the shocking thing is: no matter how many disciples walked away from Jesus, no matter how tempted we are to walk away from him, no matter how many times we have rejected God, no matter how unfaithful we are--God never leaves us, Jesus never gives up on us, Jesus never walks away from us. Never.

The Gospel says that God loved us first, that Jesus is constantly reaching out to us, constantly calling us to be with him, constantly inviting us to share his life. So this week we can reflect on any area in our lives where we reject God and the hard sayings of Jesus, and ponder how we can stay to Jesus, no matter who else leaves; how we can move even closer to Jesus and practice the Gospel in new ways, and reflect his love in our families and at work, and change ourselves and join him in changing the world and getting rid of violence, poverty, hunger, racism, sexism, the death penalty, war and nuclear weapons.

The best way to stay with Jesus is to try to live your life in relationship with Jesus every day, by receiving the Eucharist, reading a little of the Gospel every day, and taking a little meditation time in the morning to be with Jesus, to tell him your problems, share your life with him, and listen to what he has to say to you; and then at work, in the middle of the day, to check in with him, imagine he's right there with you; and then in the evening, to be with him too, talk with him, listen to him, to ask him again how to follow him the next day. If we live our lives in relationship with the nonviolent Jesus like this day after day, when we come to the end of our lives we will look back and discover that we have spent our whole lives, walking with Jesus, "accompanying him," as John's Gospel says.

Today, when Jesus asks, "Do you also want to leave me?" we respond like Joshua, "As for me and my household, we will serve the Lord."

We are saying even better than Simon Peter, "Lord, we do not want to leave you. We want to follow you and love you and be with you every day. We want you to guide us and teach us and lead us. We want to be your friends and companions, no matter what, no matter who else leaves, no matter what the cost, every day for the rest of our lives."

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