I wrote this for the Ordinary Time book - the text of which is being blogged daily here. I guess most of you know all about this (you are probably contributors) and I'm slightly unsure about the etiquette of blogging my own work from elsewhere - but it's Friday and the weekend looms, large and unprepared for...And hey, at least it is my own work!
Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them. Just as the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever eats me will live because of me. This is the bread that came down from heaven, not like that which your ancestors ate, and they died. But the one who eats this bread will live forever.” He said these things while he was teaching in the synagogue at Capernaum.
When many of his disciples heard it, they said, “This teaching is difficult; who can accept it?” But Jesus, being aware that his disciples were complaining about it, said to them, “Does this offend you? Then what if you were to see the Son of Man ascending to where he was before? It is the spirit that gives life; the flesh is useless. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life. But among you there are some who do not believe.” For Jesus knew from the first who were the ones that did not believe, and who was the one that would betray him. And he said, “For this reason I have told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted by the Father.” Because of this many of his disciples turned back and no longer went about with him. So Jesus asked the twelve, “Do you also wish to go away?” Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and know that you are the Holy One of God.”
I love Peter. I always have. The gospels make him such a vivid figure…again and again he stands out from the crowd of disciples clustered around Jesus.
I picture him as a great bear of a man, full of exuberance, quick to laugh and just as quick to lose his temper. Peter is always jumping in with both feet, often getting things wrong, promising the earth and then falling flat on his face at the next hurdle. Definitely more “Rocky” than “Rock-like”. Of all the saints, he seems to me the most human and I take huge comfort from his mistakes, his repeated misjudgements (which are, of course, so clear to those of us blessed with hindsight). When I think of the Peter of Acts, the respected leader of Christians, the one who is revered as the first occupant of the papal throne, it really helps me to remember that he’s the same guy who denied Jesus and wept - the one who on the mountain of the Transfiguration, tried to capture the glimpse of heaven by building three booths. I ask you! Talk about missing the point! But the best thing about Peter is that Jesus used and trusted him, despite all his obvious frailties, so there’s every chance that he can use you and me too.
Having written so much about his failures, the other wonderful thing about Peter is his sudden moments of illumination. It is Peter who just sometimes glimpses what is really going on, and on these occasions his words cut straight to the heart of the matter.
“Who do you say I am?” Jesus asks his disciples in Matthew 16, and Peter responds without hesitation “You are the Messiah, the Son of the Living God” (Matt 16:16) That’s enough for Jesus, who promptly entrusts him with the building of the Church (and on a bad day, you might argue that the church has continued to resemble Peter in jumping to conclusions, and making errors of judgement ever since!).
We have another one of those moments of brilliance here. There has been some pretty heavy theology going on, and most of the crowd have had enough. They came to see signs and wonders, to hear enthralling parables, but Jesus seems to be talking in code today. Small wonder that many turn round, baffled and disappointed, and head for home. It’s all too difficult, and who can blame them?
So Jesus turns to the twelve with another question “Do you also wish to go away?” and again, Peter’s response is one that says all that can be said “Lord, to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life…”
There is only one route, however hard it may be to comprehend, or to follow.
I imagine Peter saying those words with a kind of weary resignation. There must have been many times when he longed to turn aside, to return to his fishing boat and the predictable life he had led before meeting the Teacher from Nazareth. Now he has no control over events, but is caught up in them despite himself, propelled in just a short time from a life of comfortable anonymity on the shores of Galilee to a dubious status as the known associate of a wanted man. I’m sure that there were a few unvoiced regrets along the way for each of the Twelve. But they have found themselves drawn irresistibly by the person of Christ, and even if they don’t always understand him, they know that he is speaking the deepest truth they will ever hear.
So, no escape. Nowhere to go. I’m reminded of the experience of the magi in T.S.Eliot’s wonderful poem The Journey of the Magi. As the poem ends, they return home from their visit to the Christ-child, but are unable to resume their former lives:
“We returned to our places, these Kingdoms,
But no longer at ease here, in the old dispensation,
With an alien people clutching their gods.”
Once you have really engaged with Jesus, nothing else ever compares.
Yes, for us as for Peter, the way may often be hard. There will be countless times when living as a disciple seems just too much effort. If only we didn’t have to bother about justice, freedom, mercy. If only we weren’t called to love so much. Couldn’t we just forget all about it and get back to normal?
But then we realise that we’re on a one-way street, with no u-turns possible. That we simply have to follow the road, for it is the only one that will bring us safely to our destination. In our own time, so many are seeking, so many longing to find some meaning to their lives, and there are many glimpses of truth to be found in unsuspected places. But, ultimately, it is the voice of Jesus who calls us - by whatever name we know him. It is Jesus who invites us to come to him. Jesus who speaks to us the words of eternal life.
When the way seems hard
When our lives are full of noise and busyness
When our hearts and restless
And our minds confused
Speak to us your words of eternal life
And open our ears that we may hear and respond
For your love’s sake.