August 23, 2015
21st Sunday in Ordinary Time
60 Then many of his disciples who were listening said, "This saying is hard; who can accept it?" 61 Since Jesus knew that his disciples were murmuring about this, he said to them, "Does this shock you? 62 What if you were to see the Son of Man ascending to where he was before? 63 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. 64 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. 65 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." 66 As a result of this, many (of) his disciples returned to their former way of life and no longer accompanied him.
67 Jesus then said to the Twelve, "Do you also want to leave?" 68 Simon Peter answered him, "Master, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. 69 We have come to believe and are convinced that you are the Holy One of God."
This is the fifth and last week that the gospel text is taken from the sixth chapter of John’s Gospel. The chapter began with the crowd seeking Jesus out after he had crossed the Sea of Galilee. Jesus responded to the crowd by feeding them with the barley loaves and fish, and with his teaching. Within Jesus’ teaching they heard him claim that he was the bread of life come down from heaven, and all that that implied. But his teaching proved to be too much for them. This chapter ends in the opposite way that it began, with the crowds departing his company. The last verses of the chapter then focus not on the crowd but on the twelve disciples and their response to Jesus’ teaching.
The text for this Sunday begins where the gospel text from last Sunday ended. Only one line is omitted, which states Jesus was teaching these things in the synagogue in Capernaum. (John 6:59) Jesus has reinterpreted the “manna tradition” of their ancestors and identified his flesh as the bread from heaven that gives life. The last section of the chapter focuses on the disciples, Jesus’ own followers, and their response to his teaching. They find it hard to accept Jesus’ claim that he is the Son of Man who has come down from heaven. Jesus’ response to their difficulty is not to soften his claim or to try to make his teaching more acceptable. Rather, he confronts them with another question. If they have trouble believing that he has come down from heaven, what would they think if they saw him ascend up into heaven? It is a hypothetical question. Jesus is also suggesting that “seeing is not the same as believing.” The disciples have seen Jesus do some extraordinary things, yet they are having real difficulty in believing what he is teaching them. Faith is not natural, nor does it come easily. Some of the disciples decide to leave.
Jesus is not indifferent to their departure. He turns to the twelve and asks them what they are going to do. He asks them about their intentions. He leaves them free, not asking them to stay nor saying that they have permission to leave. Instead, he asks them what they want to do. Peter, the spokesperson, makes three statements that seem to move toward a deeper faith and a deeper commitment to following Jesus.
- “…To whom else 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 6:68-69)
Even though these three statements follow one after the other, it took the early Christians more than a generation to come to the understanding of Jesus that John has recorded in this sixth chapter.
1. Have you ever invested your personal time and energy into a project or a relationship, and then become unsure of its merit to the point where you seriously doubted if you wanted to continue with the project?
2. Have you ever had difficult periods in your life when some people doubted your capabilities, or your personal integrity?
3. What does the way Jesus dealt with the leaving of some of his disciples reveal to you about how God responds to those with questions and those who may even walk away? What does that say to you?
4. Have you ever struggled with wanting to leave the church, or your personal prayer life, or your relationship with God?
5. How do you feel when people leave the church, or claim to be agnostic or atheist? Do you sense that your response is akin to Jesus’ response to the disciples and apostles?
6. Peter’s response to Jesus’ questions speaks to his desire to stay on three very different levels. Some of those who stayed with Jesus probably fell into one level or another but not all three. Do you think Jesus treated the disciples who responded on one level differently than those who responded on another?
7. Which of Peter’s responses seems closest to how you are responding today? Have there been times when your response came from a different place within you? If there has been a change, are you aware of why this is?
8. Where do you find it difficult to be a disciple? What is this gospel saying to you?
Reflection questions are written by Fr. Paul Gallagher, OFM. They are edited by Sister Anne Marie Lom, OSF and Joe Thiel. To be added to the distribution list, send your name and email address to firstname.lastname@example.org
A Spanish translation of the reflection questions is made possible by Fernando Alessandrini.
Please include this information when printing or forwarding.