The calendar plays a little trick on us today. We are celebrating the Feast of St. Mark, the Evangelist. Feast days always have their own specific readings. Consequently, we will not hear the conclusion of the Bread of Life Discourse that we have been examining all week long. Allow me to bring our meditation on the place of faith in the Discourse to a conclusion nonetheless.
“Then many of his 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.’” (John 6:60-69)
First of all, this passage gives me pause as I consider that I believe. I suspect that many of you who are reading this believe as well. Perhaps it goes without saying that we oftentimes forget how blessed we are to have that faith. Chapter six of St. John’s Gospel reminds us of that when we stop to realize that it began with Jesus feeding five thousand (not counting women and children) in the desert. Here we are at the end of the chapter and there are only twelve disciples left. All the others have gradually drifted away. Faith is a gift to be cherished and nourished. Faith is a gift for which we need to give thanks.
The next thing that crosses my mind as I read this passage is Peter’s confession of faith. I am sure we all realize that there are times in the Gospel when Peter does not come off so well. While all the disciples abandoned Jesus at his hour of need, Peter is remembered especially for his denial, not once, but three times on the night of the trial before the Sanhedrin. Yet here he makes a bold proclamation in which he acknowledges Jesus as the Holy One of God. St. John’s Gospel does not include the famous scene in which Jesus asks the disciples “Who do people say that I am?” Peter’s answer to that question gains him “primacy” among the apostles. St. John’s Gospel, written perhaps by the Beloved Disciple, does not accord Peter that position until at the very end of the Gospel in chapter twenty-one. So in the context of St. John’s Gospel, Peter’s statement at the end of chapter six provides us with a strong confession of faith. So strong is Peter’s faith that he cannot even conceive where he might go should he decided to leave Jesus.
There are so many alluring voices present in the world today that we need to hold on to these words of Peter and let them be the rock on which we build our personal house of faith. It is in the Gospels that we find the words of everlasting life. Where else could we find our destiny? Faith leads us back to Christ whenever we are tempted to stray by the sirens of our day. We cry out with the parent in the Gospels: “Lord, I believe. Help my unbelief.”
Fr. Lawrence Jagdfeld, O.F.M., Administrator