Commentary on John 6:60-69
Today we conclude the discussion of Jesus as the Bread of Life.
Not only the Jews who heard him but Jesus’ own disciples had great difficulties accepting his call to eat his flesh and drink his blood as a way to life. “This is intolerable language. How could anyone accept it?” And, certainly on the basis of the words by themselves, we can sympathise with them; if we had been there, we would surely have had problems also.
Jesus is fully aware of their difficulty. “Does this shake your trust in me?” he asks them. If they have problems with this, how will they react when he rises from the dead and ascends to his Father? This is an indication that the acceptance of the resurrection was very much a matter of faith. No one literally saw Jesus rise from the dead or ascend to the Father. There was a faith conviction that it had taken place.
Jesus then points out where the problem really lies. “It is the spirit that gives life; the flesh is useless. The words I spoke to you are spirit and life.” The disciples are hearing Jesus’ words only in the “flesh” and not with the penetrating eyes of the Spirit. So there are some who cannot accept what he is saying. (John comments that Jesus knew who were those who would not believe and, particular, the one who would “hand him over”.)
To understand the real meaning of Jesus’ words comes from the gift, the grace of faith: “No one can come to me unless it is granted him by the Father.” And so, “after this, many of his disciples left him and stopped going with him”. Faith is a gift. It is a gift open to all but it is a gift to which one needs to be open to receive.
Jesus then turns to the Twelve, “What about you? Do you want to go away too?” Peter then, in the name of all, makes his profound act of trust and commitment: “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the message of eternal life and we believe; we know that you are the Holy One of God.” In other words, they acknowledge Jesus as the Messiah, God’s chosen Messenger who is uniquely united with him.
“Believe” and “know” are in the perfect tense in the original Greek, meaning “We have come to know and have come to believe and continue to do so…” It indicates not just a momentary action but an ongoing state.
Actually, we have here John’s version of Peter’s confession which we find in a different form and context in the Synoptic gospels. Peter’s response to Jesus needs to become ours too. And, if we reflect more deeply on it, we know that Peter is right. There is really no viable alternative to the Way of Jesus, even when things happen which are difficult to understand or accept. The Way of Jesus is not just adherence to a religious sect. It is to see that the Way he proposes is the way for every human being to live. To assimilate Jesus into one’s life is not just to become a good Christian but a perfect human being on the model of Jesus, who is himself God in human flesh.
Yet, how many Christians stop believing and no longer walk Jesus’ Way? Perhaps we, too, have wavered more than once. Let us ask for the faith and strength to stay with him and experience the life that only he can give. Above all, help us to see our world with the eyes of Jesus. And to help others to do the same.