Jn 6 shows us the disciples’ evolving understanding as they follow Jesus and discover who he is along the way. Their early curiosity gives way to admiration, and finally to awe. Who is this man, and what will it mean for them to follow him? Will it bring them esteem or danger if they are associated with him?
Even at this early stage, some are choosing to leave Jesus and the close association of his followers, because his words and the implications of his words are “too hard”. After some of his followers had walked away, Jesus even asks the Twelve: “Do you also want to leave?” He gives them (and us) a choice – he does not soften his words, but wants them to feel free to decide whether or not to fully embrace the Way he opens before them.
Peter’s response reveals the struggle going on in each of their hearts: “To whom [else] would we go? … We have come to believe and to know that you are the Holy One of God.” (Jn 6:68-69) Peter may not have fully comprehended the meaning of his words, but in his heart he seems to recognize that there is no alternative except to remain connected to Jesus. Somehow Jesus alone offers the sense of direction for their lives that they are seeking. In spite of the challenge that Jesus’ hard words present, Peter still senses that only Jesus can lead them to what they are yearning for… The question is not just “Who is this man Jesus and where is he leading me?” It’s really: “Who am I, and what will happen if I attach myself to Jesus?” Even more: “Who will I become if I don’t follow him, if I don’t resist the temptation to leave…? What will that choice mean for me?” Peter seems to sense that his life can turn on the answer to these questions.
And so can ours… Following Jesus with all that he stands for can mean embracing far more than we may have realized at the beginning. In a way, following Jesus is like a slippery slope. There is so much more than meets the eye in the simple truths he often utters. Even before they fully see where Jesus’ choices are taking him, they already sense that there could be problems – serious problems. Our first reading, Joshua advises the people: “Choose for yourselves today whom you will serve.” (Josh 24:15) Decide today – don’t delay any longer. It’s so true that any situation only gets more complicated the longer we put off deciding where we stand.
While none of us can foresee the future, we can often discern in broad strokes where embracing certain values will take us. We need to decide what we will stake our life on, what we are ready to sacrifice everything for… Jesus did, and he offered the Twelve a chance to do the same. What matters is that we recognize when the moment for making a decision has arrived. As Robert Frost has said so eloquently: “Two roads diverged in a wood, and I – I took the one less traveled by, and that has made all the difference.” (The Road Not Taken)
- S. Patrice Yarborough
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