This weekend we listen to the end of the Bread of life Discourse in which Jesus seemed to have crossed a line for many of those who followed him. Not only was he speaking as a Messiah, but he was beginning to reveal himself as being the Son of God. This Discourse has something of a sad and unexpected ending. What began with the multiplication of the loaves and Jesus’ walking on water, the crowds following him and listening to his Sermon on the Bread of Life; ends with “that many of his disciple returned to their former way of life and no longer accompanied him.” They found his teaching that ‘I am the Bread of Life” too difficult to believe. Jesus responded in an unexpected way. He didn’t call them back, instead he turned to the apostles and asked; “Do you also want to leave?”
Jesus called the Apostles and they initially answered the call and followed him. Jesus welcomed the crowds to hear his teaching and experience his miracles. In neither case was anyone coerced or forced to follow him. They were not being asked to join a cult that they would not be able to leave, they were invited to be followers and could freely leave any time. To be a follower of Jesus is something that each one of us must consciously decide upon. It begins with the invitation that is given in numerous ways and there is the initial decision like the apostles leaving their nets to follow and there are times afterwards. At times the followers might find themselves pausing and asking, “do I still want to follow Him?” In our relationship with Jesus we make the decision to follow him or to leave him. This is the free will we were blessed with that allows us to love or reject the Lord, and it is a decision that we renew throughout our lives.
When Peter saw others around him walk away from Christ, and he heard the question asked by Jesus, “Do you want to leave?” he answered that question with a beautiful profession of Faith, “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.” The teachings of Jesus can be difficult, but Peter sees Jesus as the one who leads us to eternal life, and who is the Holy One of God. He is committed to stay with him.
To follow Jesus involves listening carefully and seriously to his teachings, and to reflect on them in a way that helps us to grow in our faith and to remain committed to be his follower. At times, his teachings may seem difficult, and his promises seem impossible, but with faith we come to understand even the most difficult teaching, and to believe that “with Christ all things are possible.” With Christ bread and wine become his Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity, sins are forgiven in the sacrament of Confession, people are healed in the sacrament of the Anointing of the sick, the Holy Spirit fills us at Baptism and Confirmation, vocations are sanctified in the Sacraments of Marriage and Ordination. With all these how could anyone choose to stop following him?
We all know people who for various reasons have turned away from the Lord. It would be good to remember them this weekend and pray that they find their way back to him. Pray also for ourselves that we have the faith to continue to follow Jesus with our ears and eyes, hearts and souls attentive to his presence and grace in our lives. May we be able to echo the words of Peter; “Master, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.”
Father Killian Loch, O.S.B.