With this Sunday’s gospel reading (Jn. 6:60-69) we come to the end of our five week collective reading of the sixth chapter of John and our reflection on Christ as the Bread of Life. In many ways today we are given a very vulnerable scene. Christ has just laid out the teaching of his being the bread of life and people needing to eat of his flesh and drink of his blood. It was a difficult teaching for many of his followers.
Many of Jesus’ disciples who were listening said, “This saying is hard; who can accept it?” … As a result of this, many of his disciples returned to their former way of life and no longer accompanied him.
The scene is striking in many ways. Jesus is vulnerable and he is willing to remain in that vulnerability out of his love for us and the Father and his desire for our friendship and not our fear. Because of this he is willing to accept the poverty of seeing people walk away. (There is a great lesson here, I believe, for all persons who are involved in ministry and for any Christian disciple in general. Authentic ministry and witness means accepting and embracing this poverty. We do not manipulate people, we do not buy their allegiance or their participation through the latest gadget or trend. Like Christ, we simply offer what we know and what we have and we love people enough to allow them their freedom.)
Our Lord then turns to the Twelve: Do you also want to leave? Simon Peter answered him, “Master, to whom shall we go? You have the words of life. We have come to believe and are convinced that you are the Holy One of God.”
Now, I do not believe that when Peter made this reply he had a full understanding of transubstantiation worked out in his thoughts. More than likely, he also probably found our Lord’s words confusing and troubling and the thought was also probably there that, “… maybe it is time to just walk away.” But he doesn’t. Even in the uncertainty of the moment and not fully understanding, Peter makes that very remarkable reply, “Master, to whom shall we go? You have the words of life. We have come to believe and are convinced that you are the Holy One of God.”
These are words of faith and they are also words of humility – the two are connected. St. Teresa of Avila, in her book The Interior Castle, makes a profound and foundational observation regarding the spiritual life that is helpful here, I believe, “While we are on this earth nothing is more important to us than humility.” Humility is a key component of faith and, in fact, it is a key component of true friendship. No humility, no friendship. Peter does not work it all out on his own and then come to Jesus fully informed and ready to commit himself. Rather, Peter remains with Jesus even in the midst of the uncertainty because in his humility he has come to realize and accept that Jesus does indeed have the words of life and it is by remaining with Jesus that he is brought to greater and greater faith and understanding!
The key is humility and the willingness to just remain with Jesus.
It has been noted that beyond the murmuring about eating the flesh and drinking the blood is the heart of the issue that just proved too much for people and so they walked away: this being the choice of an exclusive intimacy with God through a personal relationship with Jesus. Peter both makes this choice for himself and proclaims it in his reply to the Lord: “We have come to believe and are convinced that you are the Holy One of God.”
All of our Lord’s discourse on his being the bread of life is offered and then it is summed up and accepted in the reply of Peter. It all comes back to humility, to faith and the willingness to remain with Christ and to have friendship and intimacy with Christ.
“Master, to whom shall we go? You have the words of life. We have come to believe and are convinced that you are the Holy One of God.”