I love the passage from the Gospel we heard on Sunday. (cf. John 6:53, 60-69). Deeply moving, it is one of my favourites.
Jesus has been giving what we have come to call his Bread of Life Discourse, in which he offers himself, fully and completely, as Bread for the life - even eternal life - of the world. It is scarcely possible to imagine a self-offering more complete, ratified unmistakably in his later death on the Cross. Yet what is the response of many of the disciples to this total gift of self? The passage tells us that they walked away, returning to their former way of life. We are told that they found his teachings too hard to accept, so they turned away and abandoned him.
What must have been going on in the heart of Jesus as this unfolded? Heartbreak comes to mind. He offers himself fully, in love, and he is rejected. Then he turns to the remaining disciples, and asks if they, too, will leave him. Peter gives the response, which, to my mind, is one of the most moving in all of Scripture: "Lord, to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and know that you are the Holy One of God."
Who else is there? Notice that Peter does not focus upon what Jesus said. His attention is upon who Jesus is. He does not counsel Jesus to soften his message. He does not advise him to find another, easier way of expressing the truth. He looks beyond what has been said to the One who said it. Because Jesus is who he is - the Holy One of God who alone can lead us to eternal life - there is no one else to follow. Our call is not to reject the messenger because of the message, but to accept the message - however difficult - because we trust the Messenger.
A good question to reflect upon these days is: What is my response when I receive from Jesus and his Church a message I find hard to understand or accept? Do I stay with Jesus or do I leave? Or do I remain with him only conditionally, accepting some things and not others?
Jesus offers himself to us completely, without measure or condition. The response he seeks from us is likewise total. Let's pray that we, too, will know him for who he is, stay with him, and never walk away.