Joshua gathered together all the tribes of Israel at Shechem, summoning their elders, their leaders, their judges and their officers. When they stood in ranks before God, Joshua addressed all the people: "If it does not please you to serve the Lord, decide today whom you will serve, the gods your fathers served beyond the River or the gods of the Amorites in whose country you are dwelling. As for me and my household, we will serve the Lord."
But the people answered, "Far be it from us to forsake the Lord for the service of other gods. For it was the Lord, our God, who brought us and our fathers up out of the land of Egypt, out of a state of slavery. He performed those great miracles before our very eyes and protected us along our entire journey and among the peoples through whom we passed. Therefore we also will serve the Lord, for he is our God."(P) The word of the Lord.
I will bless the Lord at all times; his praise shall be ever in my mouth. Let my soul glory in the Lord; the lowly will hear me and be glad. (R)
The Lord has eyes for the just, and ears for their cry. The Lord confronts the evildoers, to destroy remembrance of them from the earth. (R)
When the just cry out, the Lord hears them, and from all their distress he rescues them. The Lord is close to the brokenhearted; and those who are crushed in spirit he saves. (R)
Many are the troubles of the just one, but out of them all the Lord delivers him; he watches over all his bones; not one of them shall be broken. (R)
Brothers and sisters: Be subordinate to one another out of reverence for Christ. Wives should be subordinate to their husbands as to the Lord. For the husband is head of his wife just as Christ is head of the church, he himself the savior of the body. As the church is subordinate to Christ, so wives should be subordinate to their husbands in everything. Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ loved the church and handed himself over for her to sanctify her, cleansing her by the bath of water with the word, that he might present to himself the church in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish.
So also husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. For no one hates his own flesh but rather nourishes and cherishes it, even as Christ does the church, because we are members of his body. For this reason a man shall leave his father and his mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh. This is a great mystery, but I speak in reference to Christ and the church.(P) The word of the Lord.
Many of Jesus' disciples who were listening said, "This saying is hard; who can accept it?" Since Jesus knew that his disciples were murmuring about this, he said to them, "Does this shock you? What if you were to see the Son of Man ascending to where he was before? It is the spirit that gives life, while the flesh is of no avail. The words I have spoken to you are Spirit and life. But there are some of you who do not believe." Jesus knew from the beginning the ones who would not believe and the one who would betray him. And he said, "For this reason I have told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted him by my Father."
As a result of this, many of his disciples returned to their former way of life and no longer accompanied him. Jesus then said to the Twelve. "Do you also want to leave?" Simon Peter answered him, "Master, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and are convinced that you are the Holy One of God."(P) The Gospel of the Lord.
We have heard excerpts from the sixth chapter of the gospel of John in the past few weeks. Today, we are at a point where many disciples "returned to their former way of life and no longer accompanied" Jesus, John (6:66). It was not just the hard-hearted people like the Pharisees and Sadducees but even those who seemed to be quite close to Jesus turned their backs on him. Before we look at what exactly caused many of Jesus' disciples to go away, it is important to go over things that had happened in Jesus' public ministry so far.
In the six chapters leading up to this incident, because of many miraculous cures and healings, Jesus had been gradually gaining popularity among ordinary folks leading up to the occasion in which he fed five thousand people with five loaves of bread and two fish, John (6:1-15). He saw the large crowd hungry and weary and he fed them all. And they were so impressed that they wanted to make him king, but he will have none of it. Knowing their thoughts, Jesus quietly went off by himself.
The next day, the crowds again sought Jesus in Capernaum, not in the place where they had been fed. Jesus told them that they only sought him because he had physically fed them and not because they saw the signs that he was doing and came to believe in him, John (6:26). He told them further that they should not work for perishable food but for food which lasts forever and which He, the Son of Man, will give them. When the crowd excitedly asked Jesus for such food, he shocked them by saying that He was the bread from heaven that would give life and remove hunger, and that believing in him would end their thirst, John (6:35). The people became upset and grumbled over Jesus' bold claim to be the "bread of life from heaven" and the great promise of eternal life. They could not believe that Jesus, a human being like anyone of them, could offer them anything special, let alone everlasting life.
Jesus told them to stop murmuring, and instead to start believing in Him, His word and power. Since they did not understand the spiritual meaning of His teaching, Jesus further explained to them that the food or the bread was, in fact, His own flesh and blood. And they must eat His flesh and drink His blood, to have:
It is worth noting here that we believe that Jesus was making a direct reference to the Last Supper when He instituted the Holy Eucharist and commanded His disciples to eat bread and drink wine which would become His actual body and blood. We believe that they were the same flesh and blood which suffered and died on the cross and that we become intimately united to our Lord Jesus Christ and receive spiritual nourishment, leading us into everlasting life. Whereas, others, particularly non-Catholics, believe that Jesus was speaking metaphorically or symbolically. That is, eating his flesh and blood merely means accepting the whole person of Jesus Christ - following His teaching and believing in the sacrificial death on the cross and, as a result, receiving the gift of eternal life.
Jesus' "bread of life" teachings at Capernaum caused not only the crowds but also His "disciples", people who had already started to follow him, to murmur, John (6:41-71). They said, "This saying is hard; who can accept it?", John (60). It does not mean that Jesus' words were "hard to be understood," but difficult to tolerate, or accept. But Jesus, knowing that His own disciples were equally shocked and were grumbling about His words, made an even more shocking prediction. He told them that they would see Him ascend into heaven.
Now, Jesus was claiming to be the heavenly figure described by the prophet, Daniel, whose ascension to His throne will be visible to human eyes, Daniel (7:1-28). That is to say that if the disciples were shocked about being asked to feed on His flesh and blood, what will they be when they see much greater things, such as His ascension into heaven. Explaining further, Jesus said, "It is the spirit that gives life, while the flesh is of no avail. The words I have spoken to you are Spirit and life", John (6:63). In other words, Jesus was saying that when we consume His body and blood, we are saved by it. However, it is not His flesh and blood that saves us, but faith in Him and acceptance of His whole self.
Jesus also recognized the presence of unbelief among His followers. He knew from the beginning who really did not believe in Him, and He even knew who would betray Him. Therefore, He emphasized once again that only those who are drawn by God can come to Him. At this point of time, many of His disciples turned away and deserted Him.
People had followed Jesus partly to hear His preaching and partly to see His miracles. And now realizing that Jesus was not the kind of Messiah they had hoped He would be, "many of his disciples returned to their former way of life, and no longer accompanied him", John (6:66). That's to say, most of those who had been learning from Jesus, rejected His teachings, and no longer lived, thought or acted according to them. Apparently, only His inner circle of twelve remained. To them, probably with sadness, Jesus put the question, "Do you also want to leave?" Imagine! Just a few days before, Jesus was surrounded by over five thousand enthusiastic followers and, now, there were only twelve with Him.
Peter spoke on behalf of the apostles, "Master, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and are convinced that you are the Holy One of God", John (6:68). Peter's question here, "To whom shall we go?" was really a statement of faith in Jesus. Peter was not asking Jesus to recommend someone else for them to follow but rather was saying that nobody could replace Jesus in their life. For them:
What is the message for us today?
Not everyone who listens to Jesus believes in Him. And not all who start to follow Him remain a loyal follower. Over the past two thousand years, hundreds of thousands of people have turned their backs on Jesus, walking away, dejected. Reasons are the same today as they were then for why people turn away from Christ and the gospel. Some go away from Christ because of love for this world's riches. The attraction, affection for physical pleasure, pursuits and preferences turn them back to sin.
Some turn away from Christ because His teaching is too strict; His conditions are too hard; and His offers are too full of restrictions. Some others drift away from Christ because their temporal benefits are not obtained. They grow weary or get bitter or allow the doubt to choke God's Word out of their lives. Some fall away from Christ because of their unwillingness to put Christ before family, before comfort, before life itself. The ease of life which wealth brings tempts them to turn away from the sacrificial discipleship. Still others go away from Christ because their hearts are hardened by unbelief, sin, envy, false teaching and false sense of time and security.
As we reach the dramatic conclusion of Jesus' Bread of Life Discourse, we have to ask ourselves whether we want to go away as others have done or we believe and profess, as Peter did, that Jesus has the words of everlasting life and the power to change and transform our lives. We should be aware of the tests and challenges coming upon us from all sides. There are a lot of people out there today that try to lure us away from Truth, away from Jesus. None of us are immune to the areas of worldly pursuits, material possessions, false teaching and unbelief.
Hence, we must pray for enduring faith when tempted, so we do not turn away from Jesus. We must pray to increase our faith so that we may grow in knowing, loving, and serving Him as our Lord and Redeemer, Teacher and Healer, Master and Saviour. We must pray that He may help us cast aside all doubt, fear and unbelief so that we may freely embrace His word with complete trust and joy.(P) Amen.
God Bless You!