If you have ever been to Lough Derg you will be familiar with a part of the pilgrimage in which you stand with your back to a chapel wall. A cross is cut into the stone of the wall. You stand alongside the cross and say the words, ‘I renounce the world, the flesh and the devil’.
There comes a time for making choices. The people of God travelling under the leadership of Joshua present themselves before God and decision time is announced. Joshua announces the choice. They can choose whether to serve the gods beyond the river, the gods of the land they are entering or they can serve the Lord God who brought them out of the slavery of Egypt and into the Promised Land. Joshua announces his own choice and that of his household. ‘We will serve the Lord for he is our God.’ Adam had announced, many generations ago, ‘I will not serve’. Joshua and God’s faithful people now say that they choose to serve God.
In the gospel, as at Shechem in the first reading there is a turning point being reached. The disciples have the choice of turning away and joining the ranks of the unbelievers who were upset at Jesus’ words or they can give themselves fully and finally and without reserve in serving and following Christ. Christ has hinted at the passion and the death that he is about to suffer. Peter’s confession of faith, though hardly a ringing endorsement, at least in its opening words ‘Lord who shall we go to?’ moves on to a real profession of faith – ‘You have the message of eternal life and we believe. We know that you are the holy one of God’.
Christ has forced a choice from his disciples. He has confronted them with the choice of trusting in the things of the flesh or of the world and those of the Spirit, the Spirit that would raise him from the dead and see him ascend and return to the Father. He has spoken to them of the need to choose life and of his promise of eternal life to those who believe and who remain steadfast. He has seen his following melt away. He has watched those who followed him for part of the way refuse his teaching. He has watched his listeners walk away from the promise of life. He has heard the words of Adam once again saying that he would not serve and choosing to invest in the promises of the world rather than serve under the God of life.
Jesus has promised to be with us as God was present to his people in the stories of the Exodus. He has promised us the bread of eternal life. He has promised us the Spirit that gives life. He has promised to be with us under the veil of the sacrament, in the disguise of a crumb of bread. He wants us to declare ourselves as Peter did or to choose whom we serve as the convention of people did in the first reading. The time of decision is at hand. Choose Life.