“Simon Peter answered him, ‘Lord, to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life.’” — John 6:68
In our Gospel passage today we see a profound shift, that unfortunately isn’t as profound as it should be. Jesus has been teaching in the synagogue in Capernaum. The random crowd and religious leaders have been questioning him, concerned at the implications of what he is saying about being the giver of eternal life through his very existence and self-offering sacrifice. Then the shift comes in verse 60. All of a sudden Jesus is talking specifically with his direct followers. This is not the random crowd drawn by his remarkable power and teaching. This is not a group of religious leaders so caught up in their own self-importance that they cannot recognize the fulfillment of prophecy in the person of Jesus. These are the legit followers. They know the score; they have learned at the feet of Jesus for a while now. Unfortunately they’ve jumped on the complainer bandwagon too. Jesus seems disappointed. These are the folks who are supposed to get it by now. He asks, What will it take for them to come around? Will they have to see Jesus’ ascension and his glorious enthronement? Even ‘Doubting’ Thomas doesn’t demand that kind of display. He has offered them life and wholeness, but they are blinded by their own rigidity and inability to change. They refuse to accept what is freely offered to them.Is Jesus’ teaching hard? Certainly he is asking them to change their whole notions about how they relate to God and receive mercy. No longer will it come through formalized perpetual sacrifice of animals by a priestly caste, but through a very direct and personal relationship with Jesus. Even one as intimate as a meal shared at the dinner table. Change in our lives is always difficult. These followers should have been primed to receive this word of life. After all, Jesus has made a profound shift from talking with the crowd and local religious leaders to speaking with his own people.
But the shift doesn’t work out the way we might hope. Jesus seems exasperated as he closes with verse 65, reminding them of what he has said earlier in verse 44. As we saw in the earlier verse, this isn’t the exclusionary tactic we might see on first reading, but a reminder that God has provided a way for all to hear and respond. The response in verse 66 has to be devastating. Many just walk away.
I wonder at the times God has called me to change, but I find it to difficult for any number of reasons. It’s not the right time. I need to work on this other thing first. I cannot imagine it to be possible. That’s not the path to success I’ve been told about. The list could go on and on. And there stands Jesus offering the greatest gift of all, while I turn and walk away filled with my own self importance, sure that I know best.
That is not the end of the story. Jesus asks his closest circle of friends if they are ready to abandon him too. But they get it. They understand that there has been a profound shift. Jesus has offered them eternal life, and he is where they now find the center of their lives. Where else could we go? And they demonstrate their fidelity in what the United Methodist Church calls a profession of faith. Verse 69 shows the remarkable change that has come over their lives. When we can claim, as the twelve do, that we ‘believe and know that Jesus is the Holy One of God’ our lives become open to the life and spirit offered in Jesus’ teaching.