Two very human, and not that surprising reactions to this detailed teaching by Jesus revealing Himself as source of true life and resurrection, what we know as Jesus the Holy Eucharist, are given to us by St. John first in verse 60 and further on in verse 66, the latter reaction even after a further word from Jesus Himself.
Then many of His disciples who were listening said, “This saying is hard; who can accept it?” [v.60]
Indeed, it is a difficult truth-teaching to accept merely with the intellect. Acceptance is an act of faith-trust, both gifts of the Holy Spirit for which we should ask for more and more.
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.” [vs. 61-65]
So much of the Gospel, more so of the attentive and gentle, loving heart of Jesus, is contained in these six sentences.
Jesus reveals by His first question His awareness of the impact of His teaching, and then referencing the still to come moment of His Ascension prepares them, as He does so often, not simply for what is to come before He leaves them, but also gifting them something to trust, namely there is more to life than what we assume, for true life occurs within the depths of the human heart and soul, our physical, bodily experiences do not suffice.
That Jesus reminds us of the life-giving power of His words should remind us that while the ultimate experience of His Presence is within the Holy Eucharist, He is also present to us in every word He speaks to us.
Then are the two sentences which point directly past the general struggle to believe, to, without yet his being named, the one who refuses to believe and will betray Jesus.
Jesus does not belabour that point but immediately reassures that the Father grants the grace to come to Jesus for anyone who will accept that gift, for there is no other way to meet Jesus.
We cannot do it on our own.
This truth should be expressed consistently in our prayer for every human being, that everyone might know the grace offered by the Father, accept that grace and go to meet, to welcome, to listen to, to follow Jesus.
As a result of this, many of His disciples returned to their former way of life and no longer accompanied Him. [v.66]
We can draw much from this verse: as a result of this…..The ‘this’ is Jesus has just without any ambiguity stated three essentials of discipleship: 1] faith in the truth Jesus is indeed who He says He is; 2] everlasting life is rooted in acting on this belief through openness to the Eucharistic truth Jesus Himself is the Bread of life; 3] we cannot come to Jesus by our own wits or efforts, being with Jesus is a gift of the Father.
……many of His disciples…….many, but not all!....returned to their former way of life……this is much deeper than say returning to a job. This is returning to the way they used to live in terms of faith, family, and yes sin in all is variables.
……and no longer accompanied Him. We all know the emotional impact of someone leaving us, be it for a time due to travel, be it children as young adults leaving to study, work, pursue their vocation to family life, lay apostolate, religious life, priesthood and the leaving when someone we love dies.
Jesus, being like us in all things but sin, would have like us had emotions, but ours are not pure. We do not, for example, purely grieve with grief focused on the one leaving, because we are sinners and wounded thereby, there is a selfish dimension to our grief for we react that someone/something has been taken/stolen from us.
Not so with Jesus. His emotions are pure and therefore more pain ridden than ours, because His emotions are always other directed, always gift.
All four Gospel accounts are filled with numerous examples of Jesus experiencing hunger, thirst, grief, longing, love from His time in the desert to the death of Lazarus, to the rich young man, and each occasion shows us how Jesus, who because neither His emotions or intellect, that is His perceptive ability, are impeded by the damages ours are through personal sin, the sins of others against us, all are within Jesus at their purest and most intense and all are other directed and we are the beneficiaries: ……….so that My joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete. [15:11]
Joy, as we experience it, is a powerful if fleeting emotion because we cannot cling to it; however, because Jesus after His Passion, death, Resurrection, Ascension, gifts, with the Father, the Holy Spirit to us, joy for the baptized becomes a virtue-gift and intensifies to the extent we, in imitation of Jesus, gift our joy to others.
Hence the stark statement: Jesus then said to the Twelve, “Do you also want to leave?” [v.67]
Explicit in this question is Jesus assuring the Twelve of their freedom to choose to stay or leave, what is implicit is the pain Christ will embrace should they choose to leave.
The answer may have been given immediately or after some moments of reflection or discussion amongst the Twelve. St. John does not say. Certainly, from the text it appears the response was spontaneous, immediate, sincere and filled with love and a clear statement of faith and trust: 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.” [68,69]
Then, with the last two verses of this crucial chapter on the forthcoming sacramental Self-Gift of Jesus to us at the Last Supper and through His Priesthood within each priest across the millennia, the revelation of a persistent pain Jesus lovingly carries in His Heart, for the great tragedy for human beings is not knowing, or knowing and doubting, worse rejecting, the love which Christs gives as gift, but never takes back: Jesus answered them, “Did I not choose you twelve? Yet is not one of you a devil?” He was referring to Judas, son of Simon the Iscariot; it was he who would betray Him, one of the Twelve. [70,71]
© 2019 Fr. Arthur Joseph