21st Sunday of Ordinary Time – Year B

After hearing his doctrine many of the followers of Jesus said, ‘This is intolerable language. How could anyone accept it?’ Jesus was aware that his followers were complaining about it and said, ‘Does this upset you? What if you should see the Son of Man ascend to where he was before?

It is the spirit that gives life, the flesh has nothing to offer. The words I have spoken to you are spirit and they are life.’

‘But there are some of you who do not believe.’ For Jesus knew from the outset those who did not believe, and who it was that would betray him. He went on, ‘This is why I told you that no one could come to me unless the Father allows him.’ After this, many of his disciples left him and stopped going with him.

Then Jesus said to the Twelve, ‘What about you, do you want to go away too?’ Simon Peter answered, ‘Lord, who shall we go to? You have the message of eternal life, and we believe; we know that you are the Holy One of God.’

Jn 6:60-69

Jesus’ eucharistic discourse perplexes and even alienates his disciples. Having understood him literally the disciples found Jesus’ words to be incomprehensible, words that smacked of cannibalism, a notion abhorrent to the ears of any Jew, a notion beyond belief “how could anyone accept it?” (v. 60). If the friends and disciples of Jesus thought that the discourse “I am the living bread which has come down from heaven. Anyone who eats this bread will live forever” (v. 51) was unfathomable, what would his enemies think?

This is the only occasion in the gospels where followers of Jesus abandon him in large numbers. Jesus does not make any attempt to mitigate or water down his words however. Rather, he even challenges the Twelve who remain: “Do you want to go away too?” (v. 67), insinuating that the Twelve might go rather than he should change their literal understanding of his words. St. Peter’s simple response sets an example for all Christians and his words are ones of pure faith: “Lord, who should we go to? You have the message of eternal life” (v. 68).

Like the others, Peter has difficulty understanding what Jesus has just said but knows from the miracles and his experiences with him that he is “the Holy One of God” and therefore for this reason accepts that he must be speaking the truth. As St. Augustine says, St. Peter believed in order to know, rather than first knowing in order to believe (Tract 27: 9 on John).

Peter’s unfailing belief in Jesus is epitomised in Matthew 16 when Jesus asks of him “Who do you say that I am?” Without hesitation Peter responds “You are the Christ… the Son of the Living God.” May Peter always be a source of inspiration to us. We should not be like those, who upon hearing the Eucharistic discourse, abandoned Jesus or looked at him with skepticism, but rather we should see, know and follow Jesus as “the Holy One of God.

Anthony Cleary
Director: Religious Education and Evangelisation