Communities Choose — Peter Speaks

Mary Magdala Community

“Communities Choose – Peter Speaks” ©

Thoughts on the 21st Sunday in Ordinary Time, August 26, 2018

by Rev. Jim Ryan,

“From this time on, many of the disciples broke away and would not remain in the company of Jesus.” (John 6:60)

So here’s the situation we find ourselves in as we hear the statement Peter makes to Jesus as some followers find themselves no longer willing to follow the one they call the Teacher.  Peter responds to Jesus’ question which asks whether what he says (about Eucharist and the Word) is a stumbling block and, shall we say, a deal breaker.  Peter says: “To whom shall we go?  You have the words of eternal life.  We have come to believe; we are convinced that you are God’s Holy One.”  (John 6:68-9)

Peter speaks, apparently, on behalf of and in the name of others.  He is committing himself to what the community that remains believes.  Consider this, that Peter represents what is already believed.  Others have come individually to each one’s belief in Jesus, and Peter speaks to that view as a communal choice.  Did Peter lead others to this choice?  Perhaps.  Was it Peter who explained to some others what they eventually believed?  Possibly.  Was Peter selected by others to speak for them?  Could be.

One thing we can certainly interpret from this statement is that Peter is representing a commitment that the community had already made.

So, the question is what is the mission of Peter within the community?  Is it to be primary leader, explainer, representative?  Maybe, but likely not.  One thing is clear – he speaks to what the community already believes.  And when one applies the understanding of how communities come to decisions we can reliably say that freedom attaches to this process – such that a community member may be part of a community with which that person disagrees on one thing or another.  For all that, this does not exclude the person from the larger community.  Communities have a way of changing stated positions – even the Roman Catholic Church.  For example, its positions on married clergy (somehow Episcopal clergy who are alienated from their own church because of their opposition to women and gay clergy, and who are married, are OK but Catholic clergy who are faithful in every way but having gotten married are not OK), liturgy and ritual, slavery, infallibility, and so many others reveal a history of change and development – for good and ill.  In particular, when those community decisions are the result of human-made, historically determined, and culturally biased limitations – such decisions may accurately be regarded as open to questions.

For example, Pope Francis, successor of Peter, is now in Ireland celebrating one version of marriage and family life in a country whose people have decided by free vote in favor of marriage equality.  While the celebrations are fun and the music especially spirited this gathering is not inclusive of the whole community.  I wonder, are gay couples and families gathered outside of Croke Park (the Dublin sports stadium where the festivities are being held?)  Or are they completely alienated by now?

The Pope has to be acutely aware of the state of the Irish Catholic Church where church attendance has fallen in the past 20 years from 80% of the population down to somewhere in the mid to upper 20s.  Not the least of the reasons for this is the clergy and religious sexual abuse, the exposure of which, has caused vast numbers of people to abandon the church.

One dilemma here has to do with church and society.  Contemporary Irish society has incorporated marriage equality into its way of life.  Past Irish society incorporated religious institutions, like the Magdalene Laundries with their horrendous practices – even leading to many infant deaths and burials in unmarked graves on convent grounds.  You see, even Canon Law says every baptized person has the right to be buried according to the rites of the Roman Catholic Church!

Ireland has learned tragically of the dangers involved in a too cozy relationship between church and society.  The point here is to foster a church community that incorporates maximum levels of freedom and human development without resorting to legalisms whether of the church or government variety that perpetuate authoritarian rule.

Let’s remember that Peter’s response to Jesus’ question was precipitated by Jesus’ teaching that the bread shared is himself – real food, real drink.  The challenge to the community was to decide if, for them, Jesus is the Holy One of God.  Clearly, communities of believers made other choices along the way – choices that separated them at some levels from other communities but nevertheless maintained unity among them all at their core.

Just as Peter eventually saw the wisdom of the universal reach of this Holy One of God, so now we believers find ourselves in multiple communities all of which have the right to have Peter’s successor speak for us too.

A Prayer  (JR)

We are people who live by faith, O God.

We pray for faithfulness –

the kind that inspires us to speak up, to stand up, and reach out;

the kind of faithfulness that respects the dignity and the calling of each person regardless of barriers be they church-made or otherwise;

the kind of faithfulness that shares your life, your Eucharist, your gift to all without privilege, rank, or position.

For we have come to believe in you and in your words of everlasting life.


The Second Reading today was an alternative to the passage from Ephesians with its misguided teaching on marriage and metaphors about the church.  The dated and focused view on obeying and demurring wives, along with the image of marriage prefiguring church – when the true image must be that church reflects and is dependent upon interpersonal love — has little usefulness today.  (In my opinion)

In its place the 2nd Reading was the poem “The Good-Morrow” by John Donne.  Another preferable alternative is the poem “To My Dear and Loving Husband” by Anne Bradstreet.  Below are both for your consideration.  In place of obeying and demurring the poems each provide the benefit of considering love – one with an other.

The Good-Morrow      By John Donne

I wonder, by my troth, what thou and I

Did, till we loved? Were we not weaned till then?

But sucked on country pleasures, childishly?

Or snorted we in the Seven Sleepers’ den?

’Twas so; but this, all pleasures fancies be.

If ever any beauty I did see,

Which I desired, and got, ’twas but a dream of thee.


And now good-morrow to our waking souls,

Which watch not one another out of fear;

For love, all love of other sights controls,

And makes one little room an everywhere.

Let sea-discoverers to new worlds have gone,

Let maps to other, worlds on worlds have shown,

Let us possess one world, each hath one, and is one.


My face in thine eye, thine in mine appears,

And true plain hearts do in the faces rest;

Where can we find two better hemispheres,

Without sharp north, without declining west?

Whatever dies, was not mixed equally;

If our two loves be one, or, thou and I

Love so alike, that none do slacken, none can die.


“To My Dear and Loving Husband”

Anne Bradstreet, 1812-1872, one of the first poets to write English verse in the American colonies.

If ever two were one, then surely we.

If ever man were loved by wife, then thee;

If ever wife were happy in a man,

Compare with me ye women if you can.

I prize thy love more than whole mines of gold,

Or all the riches that the East doth hold.

My love is such that rivers cannot quench,

Nor ought but love from thee give recompense.

Thy love is such I can no way repay;

The heavens reward thee manifold, I pray.

Then while we live, in love let’s so persever,

That when we live no more we may live ever.





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