The one and the same Jesus who prays at the Last Supper that his disciples and those who follow them “may be one” sees division among his disciples and discord among those who follow. In the discourse that follows the multiplication of the loaves and fish in John’s Gospel, Jesus and the crowd engaged in a significant theological conversation. We have been reading through this section of John’s Gospel for the past five weeks and now we come to the dramatic conclusion of the chapter.
The crowd, after having heard Jesus explain to them succinctly and dramatically that he is “the bread that has come down from heaven” and that if they desire to share in eternal life they must eat his flesh and drink his blood, now choose to walk away. John notes: “As a result of this, many of his disciples returned to their former way of life and no longer accompanied him.”
This is a dramatic movement. We often think of the crowds continuing to swell around Jesus, growing exponentially as they near Jerusalem and only abandoning him at the end as he is arrested. However, John notes that from this point on in the Gospel, Jesus has no more large crowds accompanying him, and that he is generally only with the 12 and a core group of disciples and friends.
The teaching on the Eucharist – that of which is supposed to be unifying – instead brought about division and discord. The crowd left Jesus because they could not accept the teaching that they needed to eat his Flesh and drink his Blood.
His disciples – each one of the 12 – remained with him. Even Judas does not abandon Jesus at this point. St. Peter has the answer to the challenge from Jesus as to why they stayed: “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.”
In a response that essentially mirrors Peter’s confession in Matthew and Mark, he acknowledges Jesus as “the Holy One of God” and it is the teaching on the Body and Blood of Jesus that solidifies this conviction. This is essential in our understanding of faith. It is not always easy to follow Jesus or to remain faithful to his Church. It can be easy to walk away, to abandon that which we know is true because something is hard. This happens to us for many different reasons: some aspect of the teaching of the Church, perhaps on moral issues, or maybe some other doctrinal issue that we have a hard time understanding or accepting, a bad homily or an insensitive priest, or, sadly, the existence of discord and even corrupt sinfulness within the Church, can cause us to wonder why we are still here. It is true that many walk away and either abandon the faith all together or enter into a denomination where they do not feel similarly challenged or disenfranchised.
Simon Peter’s response is the only response that makes sense.
Jesus Christ – the Incarnation of the Divine Logos – is the very Word of Life, the Bread which has come down from heaven. It is to Jesus that we owe our allegiance, but not merely in a personal or private way. The disciples remained with Jesus, their abiding with him was not merely in spirit or as an assent to his teaching, rather they continued to live with him and they journeyed with him from Galilee to Jerusalem. In essence, they continued to receive from him the Bread of his teaching, they will share with him in the Bread of eternal life at the Last Supper, and they continue to build among themselves the community and shared spirit of faith that will sustain them throughout their lives. The foundation of the Church – with the Eucharistic presence as its center – is prefigured and established in this great discourse of Jesus in Chapter 6 of St. John’s Gospel.[[In-content Ad]]
Father Garry Koch is pastor of St. Benedict Parish, Holmdel.