Dear Friends in Christ,
Today we hear Jesus teach us at the final part of the Bread of Life discourse in the Gospel of John. We have been listening now for several Sunday to our Lord’s teachings on the Holy Eucharist and how he gives His body “for the life of the world.” His body and blood are poured out for us under the appearances of bread and wine, that nonetheless become Jesus in His fullness. He does this because He loves us and wants us to fully share in the life of God, to strengthen us in our long journey of life and to deepen our faith amid the many challenges we face.
Yet we hear in the Gospel today that a large number of disciples found his words difficult and could not believe him: “This sort of talk is hard to endure! How can anyone take it seriously?” Instead of backing down and softening his Word, Jesus lays into them: “The words I spoke to you are spirit and life.” And John relates, “From this time on, many of his disciples broke away and would not remain in his company any longer.” Sometimes the call to conversion and faith provokes a strong negative reaction and even rejection. We should note that a good chunk of what Jesus teaches and lives in the Gospel involves similar “hard sayings” or teachings that are “hard to take.” Jesus is not about forming a club or a clique, nor is he a separatist. Yet the Truth presents each of us with an ultimate decision: Do I believe in Jesus and what he reveals to us? These are questions that go to the heart of our desires and longings. Jesus is also not about forming a community where it doesn’t matter what you believe either, which is the opposite danger in us. His Word is Truth and it gives life to those who receive it with openness.
Jesus asks us the question he asked Peter: “Do you want to leave me too?” He doesn’t force anyone out nor does he ignore our doubts and difficulties. He invites us to have a conversation, a dialogue about the Truth. In our own time we could have plenty of reasons for walking away from Jesus: We don’t like some of his teachings or find them too hard to live; we are scandalized by the actions of his followers and shepherds that contradict everything we’re supposed to believe; we get disillusioned and deflated by venality, pettiness, factionalism, agendas within the Church; and it simply may seem an easier way to live without the hassles of having to deal with such heavy stuff that seems to go hand-in-hand with being a Christian. All those things can indeed be reasons, but we only need one reason to stay – Jesus Himself suffices. And his Word of Truth really is calling everyone back to their senses and to face the truth we all need to face: That our desires alone can’t go the distance, and that God offers us Life in and through Jesus. How is this communicated? Through our Baptism and Eucharist. See, where the disciples who walked away ran into a brick wall with their faith was that they were caught up with needing all the answers right away. They were spiritually impatient and didn’t want to wait around to have to live with Jesus day-in and day-out to see ultimately what he was talking about. In fact, very few eventually did. This is what makes Peter’s faith all the more inspiring – He foresaw the fullness of the Eucharist without partaking in it yet. And that is the Faith of the Church built on the rock of Peter that will stand the test of time. That is our faith as well.
In our time, when we’re constantly bombarded with what is essentially advertising, everything is in danger of becoming a commodity that you buy or “buy into” whether you need it or really believe in it. The irony is that nothing advertised – from politics, to social agendas, to clothes and iphones, can ultimately deliver what they promise. Only something or someone genuinely transcendent can do that. That we live in times in which very few things can really “deliver the goods” that ultimately fulfill us does not deter us from seeking after these things instead of God. Perhaps part of the problem is how does a 10,000 year-old religious tradition counter a catchy one-liner or sound bite that mimics our superficial desires? It’s only by immersing yourself into the living tradition of the Church and the Eucharist that you can find a way out of that trap. This is what Jesus proposes to us today. As we approach the altar of Jesus we have an opportunity to respond in Faith with Peter: “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe; we are convinced that you are God’s holy one.”