"Grab the Bull by the Horns"
After taking a weekend off last week to honor Mary, we now return to Jesus’ teaching on the Eucharist in what is called the Bread of Life Discourse, Chapter 6 of John’s gospel.
To help us understand what is happening in this passage, I want to start off with a rather goofy story.
One day I was standing on a road. I was just standing there, looking at something on the road up ahead. The thing I saw was a huge, mean-looking bull. And this bull was blocking my path. I knew that to keep moving I was going to have to get past that bull. It scared me just to think about it. For a long time, I stood still, looking at the bull, hoping and praying it would somehow move from my path so I could continue along the road. However, nothing changed, except I heard a distant voice whisper, “Do whatever it is you have to do in order to continue along the journey.”
That was the day I decided to take a deep breath, gather all the strength I could muster, and take the bull by the horns. I knew that in so doing I would have to accept whatever consequences followed—good, bad or indifferent. I set aside my doubts and fears and marched right up to that bull, grabbed those horns, and said, “All right, bull! You’ve got to get out of my way or fight with me—which will it be?”
Well, you’ll never believe what happened next! That crazy bull sat down right on the road, sighed, and spoke to me. “What took you so long getting here?” he asked. “I’ve been standing here waiting to offer you a ride. Hop up on my back and show me where it is you want to go.” What was considered an insurmountable problem turned out to be a great blessing instead. All that I needed was the courage to grab the bull by the horns.
Well, that’s kind of what’s happening in our Scripture readings today. Our first reading takes us to a transition time in the history of Israel. Moses and the older generation that came out of Egypt have died off, and now Joshua is the new leader and successor to Moses. Joshua realizes that he needs a commitment from the people, and so he “takes the bull by the horns” and, without mincing words, puts the stark choice the people have to make before them: “If it does not please you to serve the Lord, decide today whom you will serve, the gods your fathers served beyond the River or the gods of the Amorites in whose country you now dwell. As for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.”
In this case, Joshua gets a positive response and commitment: “Far be it from us to forsake the Lord for the service of other gods.” They then refer to the freedom from slavery that God had given the people, and the many miracles that took place along the journey. So they “grabbed the bull by the horns” and declared their fidelity to the one true God.
In our gospel reading things have come to a turning point. Because Jesus has said that he is the Bread come down from heaven, and that they must consume his flesh to have eternal life, many have found this kind of talk to be too much for them to accept. And so many leave, refusing to be followers of Jesus any more.
Jesus then doesn’t back down. He, like Joshua hundreds of years before, grabs the bull by the horns. In the saddest question in the Bible, Jesus turns to the Twelve Apostles, those who have shared in his life and ministry, and asks, “Do you also want to leave?”
In this case, too, there is a positive response. Peter and the other Apostles have seen the powerful miracles Jesus has performed. They have heard his preaching and teaching. And so, Peter, speaking for the entire group says, “Master, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and are convinced that you are the Holy One of God.”
And now these readings are placed before us. It is our moment of decision, our opportunity to grab the bull by the horns. Jesus is asking us to think of him as a necessary part of our diet, to consume him, to receive life by being so deeply attached to his life that it’s as if we are digesting him so that he can be metabolized as acts of kindness, water for the thirsty, food for the hungry, shelter for the homeless and love for the unloved.
Think of what Jesus offers in this Bread of Life discourse! “Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has life eternal, and I will raise him or her up on the last day.” That’s what we’re offered here at the Table of the Lord, a steady diet of Jesus’ teaching and of Jesus himself, including his divinity, so that we will have eternal life.
Now, some people say they “get nothing out of the Mass.” That might be because they have not grabbed the bull by the horns, that is, they have not made a decision like Joshua or Peter. To them, and to all of us really, the question of Peter is now addressed: to whom shall we go? It is Jesus who offers the words of eternal life! Do you have a better alternative? To get something from the Mass you have to decide what you want, and what you most need, in life. To whom will you go? If it is Jesus you want, if it is eternal life you want, then decide to go for it. Come here starving for Jesus. Come here aching for every word he speaks. Open up your hungers, your hurts, your disappointments, your anxiety. Come with your questions. If you are bored, you don’t understand why we gather here. I’m not here to entertain you. I’m here to help feed you. But you have to show up hungry. So, grab the bull by the horns. What is it you want? What is it you need? What aches inside you? What feels empty? You are here as a participant, not a spectator. Let’s explore together. If there’s something you don’t understand, tell me. If I’m falling short, let me know what you need. But don’t come here thinking about what you’re going to have for lunch or dinner. Come here hungry for Jesus. Come here hungry for the words of eternal life. Come here hungry for the living bread come down from heaven. If you do that, God can feed you. But know this: God never forces himself on anyone. You have to want what God has to offer. Otherwise, God doesn’t stand a chance.