‘The words I have spoken to you are spirit and they are life’
Twenty-first Sunday of the Year B
Jesus’ teaching about the Eucharist is difficult for some of his followers to accept – but the Twelve make a firm commitment to him. Fr Adrian Graffy reflects.
60 After hearing his doctrine many of the followers of Jesus said, ‘This is intolerable language. How could anyone accept it?’ 61 Jesus was aware that his followers were complaining about it and said, ‘Does this upset you? 62 What if you should see the Son of Man ascend to where he was before? 63 It is the spirit that gives life, the flesh has nothing to offer. The words I have spoken to you are spirit and they are life. 64 But there are some of you who do not believe.’ For Jesus knew from the outset those who did not believe, and who it was that would betray him. 65 He went on, ‘This is why I told you that no one could come to me unless the Father allows him.’
66 After this, many of his disciples left him and stopped going with him.
67 Then Jesus said to the Twelve, ‘What about you, do you want to go away too?’ 68 Simon Peter answered, ‘Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the message of eternal life, 69 and we believe; we know that you are the Holy One of God.’
Other readings: Joshua 24:1-2,15-18 Psalm 33 (34) Ephesians 5:21-32
With this gospel passage we come to the end of the sixth chapter of the Gospel of John, which we have been reading over the last several weeks. The followers of Jesus are said to be struggling with his teaching in the dialogue with the Jews which follows the working of the sign of the feeding of the five thousand. Jesus has spoken of himself as the ‘bread of life’. Early in the chapter this referred to his life-giving teaching, but in the later verses Jesus began to speak of people eating his flesh and drinking his blood, in a clear allusion to the Eucharist. It seems to be this teaching about the Eucharist that is difficult for some of his followers to accept.
There is a contrast here between the followers of Jesus and the chosen Twelve. It is the Twelve who are then challenged by Jesus: ‘Do you want to go away too?’ One can understand the perplexity of the ordinary followers, but from those who have been with Jesus throughout the ministry greater insight and greater fidelity might be expected. The response of Peter comes in a firm commitment to Jesus: ‘Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.’ This speech of Peter, his profession of faith in the name of the others, recalls the reading from the Book of Joshua, in which the people newly arrived in the promised land renew their covenant commitment to be the people of God: ‘We too will serve the Lord, for he is our God.’
Do I appreciate that the words of Jesus are truly words of life?
What has this chapter of John’s gospel taught me?
We thank God for the gift of his Son, who is our Bread of Life.
We pray for those who have never known the words of eternal life, nor had the opportunity to commit themselves to the service of God.
Rev Dr Adrian Graffy is a member of the Vatican Commission that takes a lead in Bible scholarship, interpretation and promotion in the Catholic Church.
Rev Dr Graffy said of his five-year appointment by Pope Francis in 2014: “It is an honour to be nominated by Pope Francis as a member of the Pontifical Biblical Commission. I feel humbled and very much look forward to being of service to His Holiness and the Church.”
He added: “A great deal has been achieved in England and Wales in recent years by many co-workers to advance Biblical scholarship and the provision of easy-to-use resources. I would like to take this opportunity to thank them and the Bishops’ Conference Department for Evangelisation and Catechesis for their efforts to promote understanding and love of the Bible, particularly through the publication of the teaching documents, The Gift of Scripture and the study guide to Verbum Domini, The Word of the Lord.”
Rev Dr Graffy received his doctorate in Sacred Scripture from the Pontifical Biblical Institute in Rome in 1983. He taught for over 20 years in St John’s Seminary in Wonersh, and is Chair of the National Scripture Working Group, which is an instrument of the Department for Evangelisation and Catechesis of the Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales. Fr Graffy is a past director of Brentwood’s Commission for Evangelisation and Formation and parish priest of Christ the Eternal High Priest in Gidea Park, Essex. Among his publications are the Gospel of Mark and the Letter to the Romans (Alive Publishing).
Listen to BBC Essex interview with Fr Adrian Graffy