The readings for the Seventh Sunday of Easter, Year B, are
First Reading Acts 1:15–17, 21–26
Psalm Psalm 1
New Testament 1 John 5:9–13
Gospel John 17:6–19
Many years ago I asked my friend the dentist which of my teeth I truly had to floss. “Only the ones you want to keep,” he said.
Not long afterwards I was conferring with my primary care physician about my increasing bouts with heartburn, which he had diagnosed as GERD or gastroesophageal reflux disease. He warned me about eating anything at all after early evening. Thinking of my love of salty snacks and Scotch, he sounded much like my friendly dentist when he added, “It’s all about choices.”
We live in the kingdom of gray areas. Absolutes, especially those that sound like moral absolutes, sound like heresy. Our democracy is built on the freedom of information, freedom of speech, freedom of religion–the freedom to cling to our different truths. And we have seen what religious and racial bigotry can do to tear peoples apart. So we are rightly wary of false absolutes, dichotomies, binaries, and lines in the sand.
But choices do have consequences—especially choices of religious commitment, which tend to be choices about what is ultimate. It would be nice to think, as some do, that “All roads lead to the top of Mount Fuji,” as the tolerant say in Japan; but some roads are dead ends.
Our lessons for the Seventh Sunday of Easter—the season in which we explore the impact of the Resurrection—have several dark reminders of the consequences of the wrong existential life-decisions.
Acts tells us of Judas who acted as guide for those who arrested Jesus. We get the hints of the tragedy of his choice: that he “had been allotted his share in this ministry,” but that he had to be replaced because he had “turned aside to go to his own place.” What is left out of the selected verses is the awful mention of Hakeldama, or field of blood. It happens that Judas must have been admiring the property he had bought with his earnings for betrayal, had a horrible fall, and split so wide open that his bowels gushed out. As the knight guarding the Holy Grail in the Indiana Jones movie said when the bad guy drank from the fancy, golden chalice, and melted away, “He chose poorly.”
Psalm 1 then compares the happiness of the devoted righteous to that of a tree planted by streams of water, producing a bounty of yummy fruit. But it darkly compares those who follow sour advice and cozy up to scoffers to “the chaff that the wind drives away.” Dried out, empty, and lightweight—they choose poorly.
1 John speaks of the choice of belief—for belief is a gift of God, but somehow it too must be chosen. Believers hold on to the gift of the eternal testimony of God. God shows and tells us in countless ways that God loves us. God’s witness reaches its crescendo in the gift of eternal life wrapped up in God’s Son. But there is an ominous consequence ahead for the wrong choice: those who do not have the Son of God do not have eternal life. Choices matter.
Finally, in the Gospel of John, Jesus is praying. We see Jesus’ pre-existent divinity in John, so when we hear Jesus pray, it is not as though he is asking the Father for anything. The Father and Jesus are One. But Jesus’ prayer is a meditation on the mystery of darkness and light—of hate and love. The message here and throughout the Gospel is that the God’s love and light are indeed rejected and even hated by many–so many it seems the whole world is choking to death on its own hatred. But God doesn’t give up on the world. Jesus loves his followers to the end—till the goal is reached and the job accomplished. And Jesus’ way with the world continues on with us who believe and who now must give testimony to the world. We are sent to, and must remain in, the world. We may feel unappreciated and even hated. But we, like God’s love in Jesus, are in the world for the world. And we are in it to win it.
Many—perhaps most—of the choices that we are pressed to make, are indeed false choices. We can be pro-life and pro choice. We can be champions of free speech, yet work against lies about the election and conspiracy theories. We can trust and work with the government, yet be suspicious and critical of corruption and waste at the same time. We can believe in individual responsibility, yet also in the need to correct the abuses hidden in our institutions that are rigged against the poor, the powerless, and those who simply look and act differently than we do. We can love America by working to improve it.
But God in Christ has given us all a life or death choice. Follow the way of the cross, live a life of self-sacrifice and compassion, love all people, including your enemies…do these things and live in God’s eternal now. Or sell out and cop out and find yourself in a field of blood. That is the faith choice we all have to make.
Choices do have consequences.
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