“Moses said to YHWH, “But, never in my life have I been a man of eloquence,
either before or since you have spoken to your servant.” Ex 4:10
Twenty First Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B:
The Outrageous Mystery of Our Faith!
This is the last of 5 weeks in which the church reflects on Chapter 6 in the Gospel of John.
The chapter began with the 'sign' of the feeding of 5,000 men and the unknown number of women and children. The whole of the chapter has used bread as an extended metaphor to describe both: what it is that Jesus is offering and what is the relationship Jesus wants us to have with him. The text this week (John 6:60-69) presents us with a crisis of faith, a difficult teaching, that will become a turning point for many of the disciples of Jesus. So far following Jesus has had exciting moments as he performed signs and wonders, tense moments when he challenged the religious authorities. Many of the disciples had come to hopes that Jesus was "indeed the prophet who is to come into the world." (John 6:14)
However, when Jesus says: "Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood abides (lives) in me, and I in them" (6:56) he turns the focus on his disciples and on us. It is we who are the "whoever" in his teaching. The question from the disciples; "This message is harsh. Who can hear (stand) it?" and the question from Jesus; "Does this offend you?" are addressed to us. Jesus goes on to say; "What if you were to SEE the Son of Man ascending to where he was before?" As we read this text remember that Jesus is no longer on the hillside with the thousands but with his disciples teaching now in the Synagogue in Capernaum. The number of followers seem to have fallen off but Jesus is uncompromising in the sharing of his truth.
The question "what if you were to see the Son of Man ascending to where he was before? This question should get us thinking about what we have already SEEN in Jesus - or at least to remember what it is that the gospel writer John has SEEN. "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God ... All things came into being through him ... What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people ... And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have SEEN his glory ... full of grace and truth." (John 1:1,3,4,14) John has SEEN and wants us to SEE the Word made flesh, full of grace and truth, light and life. But John does NOT want us to "see" in the simple sense of intellectual understanding. If we were to SEE the Son of Man ascending to where he was before, then perhaps we might SEE who it is who has descended from Heaven and is right here before our very eyes living (abiding) among us. "The Word became flesh and lived (abided) among us."
John wants us to hear the word, "abides or lives" as being as viscerally real as "flesh" and "blood." And to hear the words, "flesh" and "blood," as dynamically real as "abide." Abide is a verb. It not a material substance but a conscious dynamic relationship. But the teaching of Jesus still asks us to make a deeper level of commitment to the reality of who he is for us. Since blood was understood in the Jewish faith tradition to be "the seat of life" and belonging solely to God, Jesus is asking us to make him and those who abide in him the seat of their life, the very centre of their life; belonging to God alone.
John's story started five weeks ago with the crowd of 5000 seeking Jesus after the miracle of the loaves. Now the vast numbers are almost gone. If you count success by numbers, then Jesus seems to be a failure. Even among the Twelve one will betray Jesus - and he knows it. So, at the end of today's passage we find that only Jesus and the Twelve are left. When Jesus says to his disciples "Do you also want to leave?" Peter responds, "Lord, who shall we go to? You have the words (message) of eternal life. We BELIEVE and KNOW that you are the Holy One of God."
In scripture faith is a verb an action by which we consent and act. But it is also a process. Peter and the others, like us, have faith, but it needs to grow stronger. The faith of the Twelve does not amount to much at this stage of their journey. Jesus' suffering and death will severely test their faith. But the faith they have now is a starting point and the disciples believe in Jesus and have surrendered their past, present and future to him. Jesus, for his part, has something to work with, in the growing faith of his few disciples and in time will send the Spirit upon them to finish the work he has begun. Still, this is not about what mere human "flesh" can accomplish, but about what the Spirit can do with willing disciples who say, as we do by being at the Eucharist, "Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life."
Jesus in feeding the 5000 and his accompanying words, has asked his followers to make a life-altering decision. He asks them, "Do you also want to leave?" In other words, did they see in him the One they were expecting? They certainly did not have a lot to base their hopes on; he was losing many disciples who were disenchanted with him. Although all the evidence is not in yet, we like the disciples want a deeper life with God and believe, as Peter confessed, "You have the words of eternal life. We (have come to) believe and know that you are the Holy One of God." The words Jesus speaks to us are spirit and life. When Christ is present, life is present. But there will be some who will find it hard believe, find it difficult to trust and bond with him. John wants us to come to believe, to trust him, to have life in him. Not the life of this flesh that ends in death, but the life of the Word that became flesh - full of grace and truth. As we read or hear the words of the gospel this weekend, let us realise that nothing can ever compare to what we have come to believe about the Eucharist, which is the outrageous mystery of our faith.