Those who have watched the movie, The Wizard of Oz would remember Dorothy and her little dog, Toto. Dorothy got lost and wanted to make it back to Kansas from the land of the Oz. The Good Witch of the North directed her on how to get to the Emerald City to see the Wizard of Oz and emphasized to Dor
othy, “Follow the yellow brick road.” Despite Dorothy’s confusion, the Good Witch insisted that she stay focused and follow the yellow brick road on her journey. The “yellow brick road” in the Wizard of Oz can be used as a metaphor to articulate the message of faithfulness and steadfastness in the readings of today.
As he took over the leadership from Moses, Joshua could not stomach the lack of faith in the Israelites. Seeing their lack of faithfulness to God especially in difficult times, Joshua decided to take the people to task by demanding their open declaration and willingness to serve the Lord. He reminded them that God had been with them through a lot of difficulties. God brought them out of slavery and protected them in a funnel cloud when they were being chased by the Egyptians. The Lord provided water for them in the desert and gave them manna and quails to calm their hunger. It is this same Lord who promised them the land flowing with milk and honey. He goes through all the ways that God cared for them and then asks them who they will serve. Joshua presents the people with the option, “If it does not please you to serve the Lord, decide today whom you will serve.” To reinforce the need for their choice, Joshua makes his own commitment explicit, “As for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.” The people seem touched by Joshua’s uncompromising stance. They remind themselves of numerous reasons why they should stick with God who is faithful to the covenant.
We see a similar theme in the gospel, the strong need for making a choice. Christ teaches his followers that he is the bread that came down from heaven and that they must eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood to have life in them. They consider this an intolerable teaching and get mad at him. Can you imagine how this must have hurt Our Lord? He’s been teaching and preaching, healing the sick, casting out demons, and raising the dead. He’s shown such great mercy and compassion on the people. Now comes the greatest of all his teachings and they just walk away. The people see Jesus’ teaching as a hard saying, difficult to accept. For them, he is making unreasonable claims. Scripture remarks, “As a result of this, many of his disciples returned to their former way of life and no longer accompanied him.” They make the choice to abandon Him. But Jesus does not change his teaching because of his lessened popularity here, rather, he asks his disciples, “Do you also want to leave?”
“Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.” Just as we need to feed our bodies with healthy food for life on earth, so too, we need to feed our souls on the Body and Blood of Christ for all eternity. Each week, we receive Holy Communion and then go. Are the wounds in our lives ever healed? What exactly is the fruit that the Holy Communion produces in our lives? Or is it just checking a box? Yes, it’s another weekend, I went to mass, check! What choices have we made for the sake of our relationship with God -a commitment to daily prayer, going to confession on a monthly basis, reading scripture or other spiritual books? What choices have we made regarding our lifestyles? Who are you serving Monday through Saturday? Just know this, the Holy Spirit guides us to take two bold steps in our faith: to make the choice and to make the commitment.
The problem today is that people are starving all around us. They are eating unhealthy spiritual food. They’re spiritually self-medicating, worshipping the god of control/power, idol of social media, of serving the deity of fame, having the last say. The Eucharist of course is the remedy. The key is simple, make the Eucharistic Lord the king and center of your life.
So, what if Christ asks you today, “Do you also want to leave?” Of course, that question is pertinent in our time for many reasons. First is that the church is or should be uncompromising in teaching the truth about life, morals, and the faith. Church teachings can be hard when it defends the sanctity of life from conception to natural death. Church teachings can be hard when she condemns abortion. Church teachings can be hard when they emphasize the need for going to confessions regularly as a condition for receiving the Blessed Eucharist. Church teachings can be hard when they defend marriage as a union between a man and a woman following St. Paul’s message in the second reading, “For this reason, a man shall leave his father and his mother and be joined to his wife.” Church teachings can be hard when they uphold the mystery of faith in a way that challenges the way of the secular world. And the irony is that these teachings exist long before us. The gospel will always touch our lifestyles one way or the other. One reading might speak to one person differently than another. That is why Christ said of the Holy Spirit, “when he comes, he will convict the world of its sin, and of God’s righteousness, and of the coming judgment” (Jn. 16:8). The Holy Spirit produces in us the fruits desired of the gospel because Christ’s words are spirit, and they are life.
Many people have left the church for several reasons including the ones above. In the past year, many left due to the church’s handling of the global pandemic. The question is whether the solution is in leaving. Are those who left safer where they are now? Does the truth change because people leave their faith? Joshua invites us today to make the right choice and to stick with our great choice to serve God despite the challenges. The people of Israel recount their blessings from God. So, I challenge you to find those wonderful reasons why you decide to be a Christian. Rather than get angry or go away, find out if you really understand the meaning of your faith. You don’t have to stay just because others are staying. No. Stay with conviction. Stay because you love God. Stay because you find joy in the Blessed Eucharist. Stay because your faith makes you a better person, a better man, a better woman. Stay because the word of God produces fruits of charity and humility in you. Stay because God’s love inspires your marriage, makes you grow in being a noble and respectable wife, a loving and sincere husband, and exemplary parents. Stay because God loves you and sacrifices so much for you. Stay because it is, above all, the way that leads to eternal life.
Let us mimic Peter in his response to that question from Christ, “Do you also want to leave?” Peter says to Christ, “To whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and are convinced that you are the Holy One of God.” Perhaps, we all know someone who has left, your friend or a family member. Perhaps, we have also felt the urge to leave at some point. In the Wizard of Oz, Dorothy’s experience was tough and challenging. Two things stood out in that movie -Dorothy’s dedication to get to the end (with her little dog Toto) and her resolve to follow the yellow brick road notwithstanding the distractions on her journey. Our “yellow brick road” is the pathway to eternity for which Christ says, “But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.” (Matt. 7:14). Let us declare today, “we also will serve the Lord, for he is our God.”