Today’s is the last of five consecutive Sundays in which we have been hearing Our Lord’s teaching in Chapter 6 of St John’s Gospel. In dialogue with fellow Jews he speaks here of his intimate and unique relationship with God, and how He is now the, definitive means through whom one can have an everlasting loving relationship with God (what he called ‘eternal life’ and ‘life in its fullness’).
Jesus claimed that while God had done great things for his people in the past, through Moses and other great leaders, now it was through Him that God was definitively providing for His people. He said He was the One being used by God to ‘draw’ people into a relationship with God; and he was ‘the bread come down from heaven’ for this purpose.
And in last Sunday’s text we learned how the early Christians, about 70 years after Our Lord’s death and resurrection, came to believe that this same Jesus united Himself to them, in his Risen Presence, when they celebrated the Eucharist. The language He used – eating his flesh and drinking his blood – as I explained last Sunday – was not to be taken on a literal level. He was not inviting them to cannibalism – flesh and blood was the Hebrew expression for referring to a whole person and not just to one’s mere physical body.
Nevertheless, as we heard today, Jesus’ teaching led to many people walking away. A somewhat dismayed Jesus then asked Peter: ‘What about you, do you want to go away too?’ Peter’s reply was what came to be the classic summary of the faith of the early Christians: ‘Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the message of eternal life’ – i.e. we believe you are whom you say you are and that it is through you that we have the deepest possible relationship of love with God.
That same question Jesus put to Peter is addressed to us also, and it is a test for us as well.
As more and more reports emerge of the sexual abuse of children and minors in the Church, staying a loyal member of the Church becomes too much for an increasing number of people. Like the dismayed followers of Jesus in the Gospel, they too walk away. My own response to all this, if you wish to know, is to be angry and disgusted with Church leadership but not to give up on the Lord. Who else is there to bring us closer to our Creator? Who else can offer us ‘eternal life’? ‘Lord, to whom shall we go?’
Holy name, Jesmond
26 August 2018