The readings for today call for difficult decisions. The people at the time of Joshua had to decide which god they would worship—the god of their ancestors, who made great demands on them, or a new god, whose devotees enjoyed prosperity. Though many today are not happy with Paul’s descriptions of marital roles, what he was proposing was revolutionary for his day. If the patriarchal husband chose to love his wife as he loved himself, such love would go a long way in dismantling oppressive hierarchy. It is clear that Jesus was not the kind of messiah that many people chose to accept. Some of his disciples refused and returned home disappointed. These are all hard sayings; who can accept them?
Making the decision for God is no easier today. Alternatives are often so much more appealing. In some situations we are attracted to success; we want to be like others; the religious values of the past seem outmoded. At other times, we prefer the status quo. We have always done it that way; if it worked, why ruffle the waters? And then there is the call to change our understanding of God, a call that might demand a significant change in our thinking and in the way we live and interact with others.
All such decisions would be hard enough, if people were sure that they were deciding rightly; but that is not always the case. How could Joshua’s people or Paul’s Christians or Jesus’ followers be absolutely sure of their decisions? They had to trust in Joshua or Paul or Jesus. Ultimately, they were trusting that God would not lead them astray.
And what of us? We must believe that our religious tradition can carry us into new situations, and that its values can continue to be vital despite the challenges we find there. At the same time, we must be willing to let go of practices that no longer serve people well, practices that we now realize diminish rather than enhance life. Just as Jesus risked losing his disciples and standing alone because he spoke radical words of life, so too we risk standing alone when we choose to follow Jesus, also speaking radical words of life. Choosing to stay with Jesus, then, moves us into the rhythm of death/life; when we choose to stay, we die to the old but at the same time we gain life.
Finally, our understanding of God must grow and change, as we do. We get new insights, not only from teachers or preachers, but from life itself. We see genuine holiness in people of other faiths; we ourselves are willing to sacrifice for the sake of others; God no longer seems remote, or committed to only one people. These are hard sayings; who can accept them? Jesus asked, “Do you also want to leave?” Will we reply, “To whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life”?