John 6: 60–69
This Sunday we hear the end of what is known as the “Bread of Life” discourse of Jesus. It follows the multiplication of the loaves after which the crowds followed Jesus and he calls them out for their true motive of wanting more bread to eat. Jesus then goes on to speak of the bread from heaven, and that he is the bread of life. He then announces the Father’s plan, that those who believe in Jesus will have eternal life. Then he repeats his earlier saying, that he is the bread of life, and makes it very clear, “For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink.” The Gospel today tells of the response of the disciples to this teaching. For many the idea of eating the body and blood of Jesus was too much, and “many of his disciples returned to their former way of life and no longer accompanied him.”
Much happens in the Gospel of John between this chapter and the Last Supper, Passion and Death, and resurrection. One might wonder what would have happened to those disciples who left after the Bread of Life had remained with Jesus, even with their doubts? Would they would have grown in faith and come to accept the gift of the Eucharist. In many ways the faith journey of most Christians reflects the journey of the disciples. There is the early stage of faith formation when some of the teaching of the Church might seem hard to practice, let alone to understand. There are those who just walk away at that point, some to return later, others never to return. Others work through the difficulties and remain followers of Jesus as they continue their faith journey and grow in faith. It seems that one of the lessons in the Gospel today is that those who leave early are cutting off the opportunities to learn more about the faith and to grow in the faith. While those who remain become stronger and more spirit filled.
Faith is a gift from God, and like all God’s gifts we cannot be forced to accept or use it. We have the freedom to decide to move closer God, or away from him. Jesus shows this when he turns to the apostles and asks, “Do you also want to leave?” He makes it clear that the decision to follow him or leave him is theirs. He called them, but they must choose how to respond. Peter’s answer is truly an act of faith when he responds to Jesus and says, “Master, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.”
In the midst of difficult situation in which people are leaving the church and abandoning their faith, what would you say if Jesus ask you, “Do you also want to leave?” It is important for us to thank God, not only for the gift of faith, but also for the grace to be able to freely accept this gift. This is the faith that leads us to the Eucharist and to acknowledge that it truly is the body and blood of Jesus. It is this presence of Jesus that strengthens us as we continue our journey of faith. There are the mysteries of faith that we will never understand until we see the Lord face to face. There are the difficulties, the hurts, and tragedies that we struggle to work through, and sometimes reach some understanding. In all of these may we be able to respond with the words of Peter, “Lord to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.”
Father Killian Loch, O.S.B.