John 6:60-69 | 21st Sunday of Ordinary Time, Year B
Looking for Jesus
By the end of chapter 6 of John, the number of Jesus’s followers has dwindled. At the beginning of the chapter, He miraculously fed 5,000 (which was probably closer to 15,000) who had come to hear Him teach. Then, as Jesus offered the Bread of Life Discourse—the true meat of His Being— the numbers fell off. Perhaps the message wasn’t the call to arms against Rome the listeners wanted to hear. Instead, Jesus taught a far more difficult concept, faith: “This is the work of God, that you believe in the one he sent” (v. 30).
Real faith means a change of heart, not obedience to a checklist, even if the list is the Law. Real faith is hard, and difficult to measure, and not everyone bought in: “many of his disciples…said, ‘This saying is hard, who can accept it?’” (v. 60). How do we know when our hearts have been well and truly changed? And, for those used to a very legalistic system, how can we know when others’ hearts have been changed? We can’t—Jesus also says, “Stop judging so that you may not be judged Luke7:1.
I think I’ve given something to God and then I snatch it back and worry it to death. Has my heart changed? I don’t know. I do know I’m trying, but heart-change will never be something I can check off a mastery list. As humans, we want the checklist provided from on high. Jesus’s followers in 30 AD were no different. They wanted a clear-cut way to follow Jesus. A call to arms would have done just that—you were either armed and against Rome or you weren’t. But what differentiated Jesus’s followers was the seal of the Holy Spirit. That’s not visible or obvious, or even ours to determine, and His followers, then and now, chafed against the uncertainty.
Jesus knew a checklist engenders blind obedience to the list, not to the Spirit behind it. That was the last thing Jesus wanted. His followers were to be fully human and think for themselves. “As a result of this, many of his disciples returned to their former way of life and no longer accompanied him” (v. 67). Thinking all the time is hard work; nothing is automatic. It’s even more difficult not to know if you have it right. A checklist is easier: do this and you’ve got it. Haven’t got it yet? Try harder.
But Jesus always gives us choice. When the numbers had dwindled down to the twelve, Jesus turned to them and asked, “Do you also want to leave?” (v. 67). I’m sure they thought about it. I know I have. There are times I just want an obvious answer, something concrete. The twelve might have looked at the 15,000 and thought, “Yep, there’s my answer. This is the Guy.” Then as people left, I’m sure the twelve heard the questions and doubts, and they wondered the same. But, down to their core group, Peter found his faith: “Master, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life” (v. 68). His words don’t mean Peter didn’t continue to question—Jesus encourages it—but in his questions, Peter didn’t look for the easy way. He looked for (and found) the real Jesus. I hope my questions do the same.