John 6: 22-29
There come into everyone’s life defining moments, forks in the path that set one on a new course. Our readings set the stage for a major transition in the ministry of Jesus and in the life of the new Christian community that formed in Jerusalem after Pentecost. Let us look at Jesus. He had just performed the miracle of the multiplication of the loaves and the feeding of five thousand men. This precipitated a confusing aftermath: Jesus hiding himself from the crowds who wanted to make him king, boats leaving, the crowd confused, and finally the people finding him again in Capernaum. Jesus senses that this is the time to challenge the faith of the crowds enthused by his preaching and miracles. He launches into his discourse on the Bread of Life which reaches the startling proclamation that they must eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood if they are to have life in them. John concludes with: "From this time on, many of his disciples broke away and would not remain in his company any longer." (6:66). The Twelve, led by Peter’s confession ("You have the words of eternal life") remain with him. The shadow of the cross is now over the Jesus movement.
In Acts we have a decisive moment as well. The deacon Stephen has risen to prominence in the Christian community on the strength of his powerful preaching and healings. Possibly understanding the fuller implications of the teachings of Jesus he has begun to stress the differences between Judaism and followers of the new Way. He is arrested and brought before the Sanhedrin. The charges against him (making statements against the law and that Jesus the Nazorean will change the customs Moses handed down) were in fact true. Our passage ends with Stephen standing before them his face shining like that of an angel, about to launch into a passionate defense of the new Way. He is dragged out of the city and stoned to death and a fierce persecution, led by Saul, begins against the church in Jerusalem. As a result Christians seek refuge away from the city and the
Church spreads to Damascus and Antioch, a changing event that moved the church into new lands, peoples and cultures.
Maybe we can ask ourselves what is the meaning of our new Pope named Francis.
Fr. Michael Hoolahan, C.P. is on the staff of Mater Dolorosa Passionist Retreat Center, Sierra Madre, California.