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Twenty First Sunday in Ordinary Time B

Sunday, 23 August, 2015
John 6:60-69

‘A knowledge of religion, as distinct from experience of it, seems but chaff in moments of trial’ (Mahatma Gandhi). The preaching of Jesus can be correctly understood only where listeners are attentive to who he is and to the full depth of his message. In today’s gospel passage we see how lack of faith leads to mistrust in him and in his words. Faith is a gift of God but at the same time it has to be said that those who listen to Jesus and make a decision to reject his claims carry responsibility for their decisions.

The dialogue with the Twelve begins with a question, “Will you also go away?” It is in fact an invitation to stay, not a provocation intended to prompt departure. Jesus poses the question and allows the disciples the freedom to decide for themselves. He does not take back what he has said or tone down the challenge his teaching about the bread come from heaven has set out. It is Peter who responds and set out the reasons for staying with Jesus.

‘To whom shall we go?’ In several ways Peter is captivated by the message and by the personality of Jesus. Something quite significant has caught and taken hold of him. He would need a convincing alternative before he would transfer his allegiance to another person or message. Despite his inability to understand fully what Jesus was teaching and despite the irritation that some parts of that teaching caused, it did not make good sense to walk away. A hasty decision based on emotion would be unwise. Until he met a teacher who was indisputably better, it was wiser to remain with Jesus.

The second reason for staying with Jesus has to do with faith which sees his teaching as eminently credible. Jesus declares, “The words I have spoken to you are spirit and they are life” (6:63). Peter is convinced by his own personal experience that what Jesus claims is true, that his words are life-giving “You have the message of eternal life” (6:68). He has grasped how the gift offered by Jesus is life that endures, eternal life. Further, Peter has been won over by the convincing way that Jesus speaks about this life with God and by the way he provides access to that eternal life.

The third reason for staying with Jesus is recognition of who he really is, the holy one of God. The Twelve trusted Jesus and placed their confidence in him. Through that closeness to him in trust they came to know his true identity. Jesus can’t be known from a distance or known by those who are indifferent to him or critical of him. Peter describes Jesus in terms of his relationship with the Father. Jesus is the “holy one”, one who is close to the God of holiness, is united to him. As God’s holy one Jesus has the message of eternal life. It would make no sense to walk away from him. To know Jesus and his relationship with his Father is the best starting point for understanding his teaching.

 

For prayer: 

Why do I not walk away ? What is it about Jesus that captivates me, convinces me ?
How have I come to know Jesus ?  Would I describe him as the holy one of God ?