Jesus is not content with superficial and formal belonging. A first and enthusiastic adherence is not enough for him.
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. Jesus 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.”—John 6:60, 66-68
This Sunday marks the end of a series of readings from the sixth chapter of the Gospel of John that is commonly known as the “Bread of Life Discourse.” Over the past several Sundays we heard about how Jesus fed a vast crowd with only five small loaves of bread and a few fish and his teachings about the “living bread from heaven” that is the source of eternal life.
Finally, last Sunday, in a great climax, we heard Jesus declare that this “living bread” is his own body: “Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him on the last day. For my flesh is true food and my blood is true drink” (John 6:54-55).
In this Sunday’s Gospel, we learn how many of Jesus’ followers responded to his words. St. John simply says, “As a result of this, many of his disciples returned to their former way of life and no longer accompanied him.” What a sad and decisive moment.
Like the women and men in that crowd, our lives are filled with choices. This holds true of our faith-life, as well. Although we might not think much about it, choices are a difficult reality because with every choice comes consequences. By committing ourselves to one choice—like extending or accepting a marriage proposal, being open to the gift of children, entering religious life, or simply making prayer a part of our daily lives—we are also choosing to let go of other options. This happens in countless ways—big and small—throughout our lives.
The most serious choice we can make in life, however, is our decision to follow Christ. And this choice, like every other, also has consequences for the way we live our lives.
To choose to believe in Jesus and his teachings—including our belief that he is truly our Bread of Life—means to follow him in every aspect of our lives. There is no part of our life that can be compartmentalized or kept separate from the grace he offers or the demands that discipleship places upon us.
Just like the crowd in this Sunday’s Gospel, Jesus asks us if we will stay with him or if we will chose another path. Every day provides us with an opportunity to renew our commitment to follow him. This is most especially true when we choose to receive the Eucharist—the Body and Blood of Christ. In the Eucharist, we recognize that Jesus has chosen to remain with us, nourishing and healing us, and giving us all of himself. In the Eucharist, we find the strength to say yes, again and again, to the Lord’s invitation to follow him.
Choosing to follow Jesus and to live according to his teachings means opening up our hearts to something new. Jesus was offering words that were “eternal life,” but the people in the crowd weren’t able to let go of their ideas about who Jesus was and what he was able to offer them. The words of this Sunday’s Gospel remind us that when we make the commitment that comes with choosing to stay with Jesus and to live as he wants us to, we can become like Jesus and, like him, we will graced with the courage and love we need to offer all of our lives for God and for the good of all those around us.
How do you hear Jesus asking you to stay with him? How do you encourage others to stay when they might be tempted to walk away from God or from the life of the Church? What does receiving the Eucharist mean for your daily life? How do you allow the Eucharist and the life-giving words of Jesus to inspire you to live for God and others?
Words of Wisdom: “Will you also go away? This disturbing provocation resounds in our hearts and expects a personal answer from each one; it is a question addressed to each one of us. Jesus is not content with superficial and formal belonging, a first and enthusiastic adherence is not enough for him; on the contrary, what is necessary is to take part for one’s whole life ‘in his thinking and in his willing.’ Following him fills our hearts with joy and gives full meaning to our existence, but it entails difficulties and sacrifices because very often we must swim against the tide.”—Pope Benedict XVI (Angelus, August 23, 2009)