Homily for May 6th, 2017: John 6:60-69.
There is something poignant about Peter’s response to Jesus’ challenging question: “Do you also want to leave?” Many had already done so: “Many of [Jesus’] disciples returned to their former way of life and no longer walked with him,” John tells us before reporting Jesus’ challenge to the Twelve. What caused their departure was Jesus’ refusal to soften his teaching about eating his flesh and drinking his blood. “Let me solemnly assure you,” Jesus said, “if you do not eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you.” (6:53). That was strong meat indeed, especially for people whose dietary laws forbade the consumption of blood in any form. Still today the kosher laws of observant Jews require that the blood be drained from any meat offered for human consumption. Jesus’ words are also the answer to Protestants who insist that Jesus’ presence in the bread and wine of their Communion services is “purely spiritual” and not real.
The apostle Peter was, frankly, not the sharpest crayon in the box. His response to Jesus’ question, “Lord to whom shall we go?” suggests that he may not have understood the meaning of Jesus’ strong words. Peter was captivated nonetheless by the One who spoke them: “You have the words of everlasting life,” Peter responds.
Any preacher who is faithful to his commission to preach the full gospel, and not just what people want to hear, will encounter criticism and rejection. I say that from personal experience. Preachers have a two-fold task: to comfort the afflicted – but also to afflict the comfortable. When I have said from the pulpit that marriage is possible only for one man and one woman, I have been told: ‘That’s just one opinion.’ The answer is simple: it is the teaching of the Bible, and of the Catholic Church. Told that this teaching is “very hurtful to many of our parishioners,” I remain unfazed. The Lord whose commission I hold to preach “the truth the whole truth, and nothing but the truth,” will ask me one day whether I did that; or whether I abbreviated his truth because someone might be uncomfortable and offended. Similarly with the person who was offended by a homily which dealt in part with pornography – which any priest who sits in the confessional soon learns is a serious problem today – and in consequence could no longer attend our church. Jesus encountered rejection. If we who serve him experience only smiles and affirmation, we must ask whether we are doing our job.