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."
Harmony is one of the most beautiful things in life. When a group experiences a peaceful moment together, when friends want the same things, when you are content with your situation, or when you experience harmony in your spiritual life: harmonious situations are wonderful!
In this light, the scene of today's Gospel is truly dramatic in contrast. “Do you also want to leave?” Jesus directs this question not simply at an anonymous crowd, but at his twelve close friends, at his disciples. Have you ever offered a friend to abandon you? Imagine how tense a situation would have to be in order to lead to such a showdown. John's account of Jesus’ dialogue with the disciples therefore reflects a situation of deep conflict. Maybe it was a fight, maybe those were days of struggle and tension, maybe there was an unspoken unease among them about Jesus’ mission. What we know for certain is that such a question does not spring forth from a situation of harmony.
In today's liturgy, Jesus’ question is directed at us. “Do you want to leave me?” We feel the import, the drama, the scandal which resound in that inquiry. How can Jesus even ask me that question?
Well, the question reaches into each person's individual context. It reaches into those areas of your life where you may lack harmony. A difficult decision, a nagging doubt, a shift in opinion, a conflict, a disappointing scandel. Maybe it is a theological issue - like in the case of the disciples who struggled to believe in Jesus’ discourse about Him being the Bread of Life. Jesus addresses us in our specific context today. And He asks that daring question.
Maybe our answer resembles Peter's response. “Master, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.” Or maybe we express the same thing with our own words. When giving the account of that scene, John must have remembered Peter's answer word by word. He must have recalled the uncomfortable tension that led up to Jesus’ question and also the heartfelt relief caused by Peter's answer. In fact, Peter's answer re-established harmony. He did not fix or clarify whatever was the pending issue. He simply renewed his unconditional commitment to Our Lord. His sincere words were loaded with the incubators of the deepest harmony: faith, hope, love.
This can help us to understand why Jesus engages in our difficulties in such dramatic, challenging and daring fashion by confronting us with today's question. Tensions or the occasional lack of inner harmony are normal. What is problematic about them is that these tensions can lead to a paralysis in our relationships. In the spiritual life, we often slow ourselves down by melancholically hovering over our doubts, fears, or pains. We get so caught up in them, that we lose direction.
Jesus seems to clap his hands and call for our attention. Do these issues change anything between you and me?, he seems to ask. Do they change who I am to you? The moment we recognize that, as a matter of fact, they do not, we recover spiritual harmony. For, when we remember who Jesus is for us, we renew our abandonment in His might and grace. That way, the nasty problems of life lose importance, lose their paralyzing power, and we recover the faith, hope, and love which keep us spiritually alive. “Master, to whom shall we go? You alone have the words of eternal life.”