21st Sunday in Ordinary Time
Gospel – John 6: 60-69
Many of Jesus’ disciples who were listening said, “This saying is hard; who can accept it?” Since Jesus knew that his disciples were murmuring about this, he said to them, “Does this shock you? What if you were to see the Son of Man ascending to where he was before? It is the spirit that gives life, while the flesh is of no avail. The words I have spoken to you are Spirit and life. But there are some of you who do not believe.”
Jesus knew from the beginning the ones who would not believe and the one who would betray him. And he said, “For this reason I have told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted him by my Father.”
As a result of this, many of his disciples returned to their former way of life and no longer accompanied him. Jesus then said to the Twelve, “Do you also want to leave?” Simon Peter answered him, “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.”
We resume our reading of John’s Bread of Life Discourse this week. The verses that immediately precede today’s selection include Jesus’ uttering that his followers must eat his flesh and drink his blood to attain eternal life.
There is a sadness, I think, in these words “… many of his disciples … no longer accompanied him.” They joined in the growing number of people since the “feeding of the 5000” who are rejecting Jesus’ words and teachings. In this passage, he now directly poses a specific question to the Twelve, the ones he has intentionally called to follow him: “Do you also want to leave?”
I imagine his exposed vulnerability as he awaits their response. And Peter, speaking for the Twelve, provides a deeply meaningful confession of faith in Jesus as he proclaims him to be the “Holy One of God.” He affirms that truly there is no one else that they would want to accompany because Jesus’ words are Spirit filled and truthful. By accepting his words and eating his flesh and drinking his blood, his followers will enter fully into his life and mission.
Their decision to do so can present many challenges and evoke some fear among them. Jesus assures them, though, that if they believe in him, he will accompany them on their journey and lead them into a lasting, transformative relationship with God. The question posed to the Twelve is also posed to us and awaits our answer.
In prayer this week, perhaps we can consider what words of Jesus are hardest for us to accept. Can we speak honestly with Jesus about them? Then, trusting that his words are Spirit and truth, can we consider how we can come to understand those words or beliefs as we continue to accompany Jesus further into the mystery of God’s love?
In a little while I’ll be in the Big Church for liturgy. I will carry with me your evocative phrase “his exposed vulnerability as he awaits their response.” Powerful image for me. Thank you.