‘This is intolerable language. How could anyone accept it?’
These words, taken from today’s gospel, describe the reaction of people listening to Jesus about eating his body and drinking his blood. This is not an accidental crowd of spectators; at least some of them made an effort to cross the lake and to find Jesus; these are people who care. Yet despite all their efforts they have reached the barrier they can’t step over. The message cannot be contained within their worldview, hence it is totally unacceptable and consequently it must be rejected along with its propagator.
The controversy these people have faced was an idea of feeding on Jesus’ body and blood. He claimed that that was the only way of getting everlasting life. But presumed cannibalism was not acceptable to his listeners. But their problem was that they understood this literally, when Jesus did not. ‘It is the spirit that gives life; the flesh has nothing to offer.’
In many of its aspects, Christian teaching faces strong opposition; it’s often described as out-of-date and out-of-fashion, divisive and unattractive. For this fiasco in part I’d blame the language we use to promote our values and to address the problems we face. But most of all many modern people cannot implement Christian values into their worldview. If they did, they would have to re-fashion their lives – and that’s something unacceptable from their point of view.
Consequently we are sitting in this church as a minority, sometimes abandoned in faith by our own children. A tempting thought comes to our heads from time to time: maybe they are right? This thought reflects in the question that Jesus puts to his Apostles: ‘do you want to go away too?’ The answer given by Simon Peter seems to come from his helplessness and hopelessness: ‘who shall we go to?’ But that’s the wrong interpretation. It’s not the lack of better options that drives the Apostles’ decision. It’s an act of faith; it’s a positive, earnest and joyous acceptance of Jesus’ offer: ‘you have the message of eternal life, and we believe.’
In our everyday life we come across the same question asked by Jesus. We give the answer not by words, but by acts. Verbal declaration means nothing if the lifestyle doesn’t follow. Our words can confirm and strengthen the testimony we give by our deeds. We take Jesus’ body and blood at Holy Communion to find this internal strength we need to keep our declaration of faith alive: ‘you have the message of eternal life, and we believe.’