Jesus Teaches, 1886-1894, Jacques Tissot Watercolor Series of the Life of Christ, The Brooklyn Museum, Brooklyn, New York, USA.
Jesus then said to the Twelve, “Do you also want to leave?” Simon Peter answered him, “Master, to whom shall we go? John 6:67-68.
Today’s gospel continues the theme established several weeks ago, where Jesus lays the foundations of what would become the Eucharist we all celebrate to this day. If we do not accept the gift of his flesh and blood then we have no life in us, he says. Today is a further elaboration of this basic – and on the face of it – shocking, teaching. But today’s teaching has the key to understanding it. Jesus says today that flesh “is of no avail”, and that it is spirit “that gives life”. So he must be talking somehow of a spiritual flesh and blood that will give life. Even so, this was the final straw for many of his followers, spirit or no spirit. Such a teaching was way beyond their understanding or tolerance. Many left him, hence Jesus’ plaintiff question to his closest friends today, “Do you also want to leave?” The fact that his closest disciples did not leave him might be behind Jesus’ statement that they remain because God the Father has granted them such loyalty. They are of course free to leave, but at Peter says, where else could they get such incredible teaching which carried with it the gift of eternal life, even though they almost certainly did not understand it? They had accepted that he was the Holy One of God, the long desired Messiah, and that was why they still followed him. Almost certainly, on the other hand, his teachings must have bewildered them. No-one had ever taught such things before, but they trusted him so deeply that they knew somehow it would lead to holiness, to eternal life.
The second reading seems to attempt to give a human parallel to the relationship between God and the followers of Jesus, the church. With deepest respect on both sides, two people who love one another truly and profoundly become one in their union. In the same way God and Jesus’ followers, whom we call the church, are also united in love and become one together. Just as God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, has demonstrated the qualities of power, loyalty, forgiveness, mercy, the ability to listen, the love of freedom and an openness to relationship through the Scriptures and through human history, so we must show those same qualities towards God and each other today, and so become one in mutual love and respect. Hence in that way, true Christians reflect here on earth the image of heaven, with the life of Jesus at its heart animated by the Holy Spirit This fulfills the very teaching we see in today’s gospel, because where else can we go to find the words of eternal life?
Jesus Goes Up Alone Onto a Mountain to Pray, 1886-1894, Jacques Tissot, Watercolor Series of the Life of Christ, The Brooklyn Museum, Brooklyn, New York, USA.