Sybil 2008

Gospel text

John 6: 60-69

60 After hearing Jesus' speech, many of his disciples said to him, "What you just said is difficult. Who can understand it?" 61 Being aware that his disciples were grumbling about this, Jesus said to them, "Is this an obstacle to your faith? 62 But then what would you say when you see the new Adam joining the world where he came from? 63 It is the spirit that opens onto life, human nature is useless. These things that I have told you are spirit and they are life. 64 But there are some of you who don't believe". For Jesus knew from the beginning those who did not believe and the one who was going to betray him. 65 So he said to them, "This is why I told you that no one can become my disciple unless the Father gives him this strength."

66 From that time many of these disciples moved away from him and stopped walking with him. 67 Jesus said to the Twelve, "Do you want to go, too?" 68 Simon Peter answered him, "Lord, we would leave to go to whom? You are the one who has endless words of life, 69 and we have always believed and we have always known that God dwells in you".


Who would we go to? Your words are the source of life

Gospel commentary - Homily

From the bread of humanity to the bread of endless life

For people who regularly read the Gospels or the New Testament, there are passages which become a reference or a benchmark, because they shed a particular light on life, because they name what one feels or perceives. Today's Gospel plays precisely this role for people like me. When Jesus sees his disciples leaving him and asks the Twelve if they also want to leave him, Simon Peter replies, "Lord, we would leave to go to whom? You are the one who has endless words of life". How many times this cry was the only word in the night of faith! Let us try to understand the issue.

First of all, why do the disciples want to leave Jesus? Yet, everything started well. Jesus fed a crowd with barley bread and fish and people seemed to get drawn to him. When he invited them to work not just for the stomach, but to do the works of God, people did follow. To Jesus who presented the real bread which comes from God, different from the manna given by Moses in the desert, the people answered, "Give us this bread". But everything is spoiled when Jesus adds, "I am this bread." Why? What is the difficulty here? "Isn't this guy Joseph's son," people say. In other words, how can God, so great and so powerful, give his food of life through a limited being of flesh and bone.

And there is this sentence where even his disciples will start to switch off: "Who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has endless life". How is it possible? people say. What is the real difficulty with this statement? Here, let us be careful not to project our liturgical setting onto the Gospel of John: the stake is not at all to believe that by eating the bread and drinking from the cup through the holy communion we are eating the body of Christ. The stake here is to believe that the given life of Jesus, that his blood shed for love will have a universal impact, and that whoever follows the same path, will experience the same endless life. Thus, not only is it not "in heaven" but in the limited human being that one finds God, but also one will experience an endless life only by making one's own the given life of Jesus. "What you just said is difficult", say the disciples.

What is at stake here is our vision of God. Jesus said, "No one is able to become my disciple unless the Father gives him this strength". Because let's be honest, if we had had to create this world in which we live, we would have created it different, without leaving all this place to the possibilities of accidents of all kinds, to disease and to the forces of evil. It is very difficult to reconcile our image of God with a realistic outlook on life. It is as if this world is too human to come from God. And reconciling these two worlds would be almost impossible if we didn't have the testimony of Jesus. Here is the cry of Peter and ours: "Where to look elsewhere for meaning in this world and this life?" No one can bring light like you do."

But how can we explain that people believe and others do not believe, as Jesus complains? Does this mean that some would receive this strenght from God of which Jesus speaks, and others not? Believing is not primarily a theoretical adherence to a theological formula. To believe is first and foremost a movement of your heart that lets itself be opened by love and looks at the world with these glasses. This simple movement and this look, when it settles, changes everything. It is only with this outlook that Simon Peter can understand and accept not only the given life of Jesus, but also the face of God that he proposes. There are things that are understood only from within, only by living them, and faith is one of those things. This is the deep meaning of Jesus' invitation to eat his flesh and drink his blood, in short to be in the same life.

The big decision of a life is to accept or refuse this life which is his, or using terms of a believer, to accept or refuse that the bread of human life becomes bread of life without end. For a Christian, this is done in parallel with his acceptance that Jesus, his life given and his blood shed, reflects the very face of God. For an Etty Hillesum, a young Jewish woman who died in Auschwitz in 1943, it takes the form of openness to the splendor of the world in a concentration camp. No matter what faith, the same decision exists, as shown by the recent story of this Palestinian doctor caring for Jews, who lost three of his daughters in a bombardment in Gaza, but who refuses hatred and wants to continue his given life. How hard this world can be! Who is God? So let's listen to Simon Peter's answer again.


-André Gilbert, Gatineau, April 2009