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The words of eternal life

Gospel Reading: Jn 6:60-69
Many of the disciples of Jesus who were listening said, “This saying is hard; who can accept it?” Since Jesus knew that his disciples were murmuring about this, he said to them, “Does this shock you? What if you were to see the Son of Man ascending to where he was before? It is the Spirit that gives life, while the flesh is of no avail. The words I have spoken to you are Spirit and life. But 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. And he said, “For this reason I have told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted him by my Father.”

As a result of this, many of his disciples returned to their former way of life and no longer walked with him. Jesus then 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. We have come to believe and are convinced that you are the Holy One of God.”

The negative reaction of the crowd and even of Jesus’ disciples to his revelation as the Bread of Life is often referred to as the “Galilean crisis.” The Synoptics also know of people’s disbelief in and rejection of Jesus in Galilee (cf Mk 6:1-6; Mt 11:20), but the one in John is the most severe. While true of Jesus’ experience during his ministry, scholars opine that the evangelist may have had in mind the “apostates” in his time, among his community of believers. Some Jewish Christians may have returned to their “former way of life.” It may also have pointed to division among believers on how to interpret the mystery of the Eucharist.

Some of Jesus’ declarations are disquieting and hard for people to take, even for the Twelve. They are no better off in terms of understanding, but they have something special: they have faith and confidence in Jesus. They could very well own the compliment of Jesus’ detractors, minus the evil intent with which it is given: “We know that what you say and teach is correct, and you show no partiality, but teach the way of God in accordance with the truth” (Lk 20:21).

Jesus does not “adjust” his pronouncement to the liking of his listeners. He speaks the truth and tells his disciples to face up to it. And Simon Peter makes the leap of faith: “Master, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.”

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