Jesus then said to the Twelve, “Do you also want to leave?”
These are the last words we heard from Jesus before the shift. All through the sixth chapter of Saint John’s Gospel that we have been reading for the past five weeks, He had been laying out the essential intimacy He offers in His Body and Blood. This week we shift back to the Gospel of Saint Mark, but these words still ring in our ears.
They are words he addressed to those closest to Him. They are words that require an answer. They are words that He addresses also to us.
Jesus asks The Twelve, those whom He has called to be His Apostles, whether they too will leave because of His insistence that they must eat His flesh and drink His blood. Many of His disciples have already parted ways with Him and gone back to their former ways; He offers them the same possibility.
There is no way to ignore the question, an either/or proposition. Never before has there been a better time to break away from Jesus – right when so many others are doing it. Never again will there be such a convenient time -- things will only get more intense as He moves toward Calvary. Saint Peter’s response is a plaintive, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of everlasting life,” that sums up the position of his companions. They do not yet know where they are going, but they know whom they will follow.
Like all of Scripture, these words are living and active. That means Jesus looks to us, too, with the same love and mercy with which He looked to the twelve, and with the same question, offering the same opportunity. “Do you also want to leave?”
The shift this week back to the chronology of Saint Mark’s Gospel is not the only shift; as families return from their summer vacations in preparation for school, shift their schedules, and shift the Mass they attend to accommodate those schedules. There is also a shift in focus as everyone gets back to business from summer leisure.
But there is also a perceptible shift in the culture and society we inhabit, a shift away from many of the basic elements of life that were taken for granted for generations and centuries. Things are changing fast, and those changes do not represent a renewed dedication to the Lord Jesus Christ, Risen Son of God.
It is important for us to realize that the latter shift – in the culture, in society – is no more or less remarkable than the shift in family schedules. Societies change, like the seasons. Nations and the fabric of nations are not fixed things. How such things were is not how those things will be. As we accommodate the shift that the change in seasons brings, we must address, and yes accommodate, the shift that the change in society brings.
The marvel of the Holy Eucharist is that in its singular indispensability, it offers also universal availability. It is possible to be faithful to Christ in the Mass while at the beach, or while traveling abroad, just as much as it is while we are at home and in our routines. You saw when you went to Mass at Bethany Beach or wherever you wandered this summer; how many of your brothers and sisters faithfully kept Christ’s command even as their routine shifted. Now you will see the faithful folks who shift back home.
Things shift; not only predictable, seasonal things, but big things, societal things, and cultural things. What does not shift is that essential intimacy Jesus offers us in His Most Sacred Body and Precious Blood. What does not shift is the Word of God: words Jesus addressed to those closest to Him; words that require an answer; words that He addresses also to us.
“Do you also want to leave?”