JESUS THEN SAID TO THE TWELVE, “DO YOU ALSO WANT TO LEAVE?”
Sunday, August 23, 2015
Twenty-First Sunday in Ordinary Time
60Then many of his disciples who were listening said, “This saying is hard; who can accept it?”61Since Jesus knew that his disciples were murmuring about this, he said to them, “Does this shock you?62What if you were to see the Son of Man ascending to where he was before?63It is the spirit that gives life, while the flesh is of no avail. The words I have spoken to you are spirit and life.64But there are some of you who do not believe.” Jesus knew from the beginning the ones who would not believe and the one who would betray him.65And he said, “For this reason I have told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted him by my Father.”
66As a result of this, many [of] his disciples returned to their former way of life and no longer accompanied him.67Jesus then said to the Twelve, “Do you also want to leave?”68Simon Peter answered him, “Master, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.69We have come to believe and are convinced that you are the Holy One of God.”
Other readings: Joshua 24:12; Joshua 24:15-18; Psalm 34:2-3; Psalm 34:16-21; Ephesians 5:21-32
“…choose today whom you will serve, the gods your ancestor served beyond the River or…. As for me and my household, we will serve the LORD” (Joshua 24:15). Joshua’s words can be the starting point for our Lectio, as they anticipate the alternative Jesus poses to the disciples after some of his followers decided to leave his company. The moment is crucial for Jesus, as he understands that not all those who surround him are real believers, but follow him for different reasons (perhaps because they had eaten the loaves? 6:26) that are not based upon faith. It is also a turning point for the Twelve, as Jesus clearly poses the options they have before them. They have already had a glimpse of what following him may mean: announcing the Good News, curing the sick and casting our demons; but also misunderstanding, doubts, and rejection.
From a theological viewpoint, the moment is also a turning point. Jesus has another disconcerting message for those who could not understand his words about their need to “gnaw” his flesh and drink his blood, as if they were cannibals, in order to have eternal life and be raised on the last day! (6:53-55). In fact, flesh cannot be, will never be, of any avail. It is only the Spirit that gives life. Jesus’ words are Spirit life: he is in fact the Word, in whom and through whom there was life from the very beginning (John 1:3-4). Those who murmur have not understood him, because they are still “in the flesh.” Nor can they come to him because they have not been granted the gift of the Sprit from the Father. Even if they could see Jesus ascending back to where he really belongs, their reaction would be the same because they see with the eyes of flesh only. Jesus goes further: he knows those who believe in him, and even those who will betray him (6:70-71).
In the center of this moment of clarification of attitudes, Jesus poses a question, not to the general group of followers, but to “the Twelve” (only in 20:24, the apparition to the disciples, will John mention that number again). They will have to opt between following him or leaving him as some others have already done. No command, no suggestion, just a terse question. As on other occasions, it is Peter who speaks on behalf of the group. We do not know to what extent Judas felt represented by his words, but Simon does not simply pronounce some mild, timid assent. His answer goes beyond what could be expected. He brings to mind Martha’s words at the end of her dialogue with Jesus before the raising of Lazarus. Her words were a true profession of Christological faith (11:17-27). In the case of Peter, what we find is also a profession of faith in Jesus as “the Holy One of God,” but above all, a declaration of trust in Jesus, the one who can give meaning to the life of an individual. It is clear that only the Spirit could have inspired those words of faith in Jesus as the source of life (6:68-69).
The entire section about the Eucharist in John’s Gospel is now completed. Next Sunday we will return to Mark, and the subject of the first passage will be that of a discussion with the Pharisees and the teachers of the Law about the interpretation of the commandments of the Law.
A couple of suggestions about the fragment from Ephesians. First, remember we cannot read any passage of Scripture without taking into account its social, political and economic context. Second, to understand Paul’s words about the relationship between husbands and wives in a marriage, we must have in mind the first sentence of the passage: “Be subordinate to one another out of reverence for Christ” (5:21), a general admonition for both men and women. And, most importantly, the context of Christ’s love for the Church, which frames the life of marriage as another element of the life of the community of believers as a whole. That will prevent any misinterpretation for us in our own context.
I assume that most of those who follow these Lectiones were born into, or at least have had a Christian background; that being Christian is a given fact, like our language. That is why we sometimes take for granted our Christian identity without subjecting it to the trial of a decision to follow Christ or lead a life without him. It may be a painful meditation, but why don’t we read Matthew 16:24-28, or Luke 9:23-27, to see if we can accept following him with the confidence expressed by Simon in our reading from today’s Gospel.
First, a general intercession for the entire Christian community of believers: that we may be granted the gift of looking at the reality of our world illumined with the eyes of the Spirit, and not with those of the flesh.
Let us also pray for those who fear to follow Jesus and face discrimination or persecution because of their Christian faith; and for those who have doubts about the demands entailed in their particular vocation: that they may all receive the strength they need from Jesus, the bread of life.
Look for or formulate an answer, some personal response like that of Peter, to give you courage to follow Jesus. Something simple but meaningful, that can be repeated from time to time. Maybe the task of finding it will help you clarify your confidence in him.
Reflections written by Rev. Fr. Mariano Perrón,Roman Catholic priest,Archdiocese of Madrid, Spain