The Gospel text for today is the last of a series taken from the sixth chapter of the Gospel of John. We are in the Year of Mark but these last five Sundays are devoted to the Gospel of John. The editors of the Lectionary obviously think that St Mark’s account of the life of Christ needs some supplementing.
These five Sunday Gospels have contained the heart of Jesus’ teaching on the Eucharist. In the opening line of today’s text we hear his listeners expressing their incredulity at what he had been telling them about the Eucharist.
Jesus’ response to them is quite simple. He says that his words are spirit and they are life. Those who accept his teaching will find his words to be life enhancing and they will come to a profound faith in the Son. But clearly, as we are told, his explanation of the Eucharist did not find favour with a substantial number of people and at that moment many turned away and stopped following him.
It is often like this in life. We go along with something and keep listening to a particular point of view until we get to a sticking point and then we have to decide whether to accept this new teaching or not. We have to decide whether we will go along with the teacher or whether we will walk away. In the face of something completely new we almost always get to a point where we are faced with such a choice.
This is particularly so in the case of Jesus. He is an enigma and once we get to know about him and the content of his teaching we find that we have to make a choice. We either go along with him or we walk away.
Of course, this presupposes that we have taken the time to hear about Jesus and to weigh up his teachings. We have to listen carefully to what he has to say and to evaluate it and see whether it is something that will enhance our human life or not.
However, many people in our society live their lives in profound ignorance of Jesus. They know some things about him; that he was a great man, that he performed miracles and that he died on the Cross. But they have never taken the trouble to study his life, they have never understood that belief in him opens the door to eternal life.
Many of them might realise that there is more to Jesus than first meets the eye but they don’t want to know more. They don’t want to enquire too deeply because they feel at some level that they might then be required to make a choice.
Such people realise that there is something unsettling about Jesus. They decide to steer clear of him because they recognise that if they get to know him better then they might be required to make some changes to their lives. They prefer to live their lives in ignorance unwilling as they are to make any personal changes.
What this means is that they rarely enter a Church, they never say any prayers and they avoid discussing things such as the meaning of life or whether there is a life after death. Actually what they end up with is a deep emptiness in their lives, a feeling that something essential is missing but they don’t know precisely what it is.
Once the disbelievers have left Jesus is standing there surrounded only by his Apostles. So, he turns to them and asks if they will leave him too. Peter responds by saying, ‘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.’
For all his impetuousness and his denials Peter often hits on precisely the right words to express what the other Apostles feel. They have followed Jesus on his travels around Palestine, they have listened to his teachings and while they might not understand him completely they know that he alone has the message of eternal life.
We are just like those Apostles standing there in the countryside outside Capernaum. We may not be experts on Christ’s teaching, we may not have explored all the doctrines of the Church but we know enough to realise that Jesus is the one who is the key to life’s mysteries. We know that he is the only one who can save us. We understand very well that having a close relationship with him is the most important thing that we have to do in life.
Like those Apostles we want to know more, we want to stick with Jesus and to deepen our relationship with him. We know that we cannot walk away; we realise that our true destiny is only to be found in following him; we understand very well that in order to attain eternal life we have to follow in his path and embrace his Gospel of love.
This moment of truth, this point where we must make a decision about Jesus is not something that is simply a one-off event. No, during the course of our lives we are faced with such moments over and over again. There may well have been at a certain point in our lives a time of crisis, a time when we first accepted Christ and chose to follow him. But this fundamental choice has to be frequently faced again, it needs to be constantly renewed and reinforced.
Each time we come to Sunday mass we stand together as a congregation and recite the Creed. When we do this, we are reaffirming our faith in Jesus. When we do this, we are choosing once again to commit our lives to him and all that he stands for. When we do this, we are deciding once again to be his faithful follower.
Reciting the Creed is not therefore just a ritual exercise it is a profound reaffirmation of our faith in Jesus and in the teachings of his Church. When we express our faith in this way we find ourselves united with Peter when he says those most insightful words, ‘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.’
Father Alex McAllister SDS
Parish Priest of
St Thomas à Becket