John 6 Day 8

Day 8: Saturday, April 20th 
John 6:60-69
Fr. Reutter’s reflection

As we come to the conclusion of the long Bread of Life discourse, we see something unprecedented in the Gospels.  In many other places there, Our Lord recognizes that what He is teaching about the love of God the Father, His own divinity, and the union of Himself with the Father in the Holy Trinity are very difficult to understand.  Many times He underscores points that He knows will seem surprising or counterintuitive.  (Depending on your Bible translation, these are often marked by Jesus’ “heads up” phrase: “Amen, Amen I say to you!” or  “Truly, truly I say to you.”  This is a Hebrew idiom that indicates something like, “I really mean what I am about to say, and it is important!”)   Our Lord uses that in this chapter, v. 53, to emphasize that He literally intends us to eat His Body and drink His Blood as a means to our salvation.


But in today’s verses, Our Lord goes one step further.   He doesn’t merely emphasize His teaching.   Instead, He flat out recognizes that it will upset and confuse people and that many will simply not be able to accept the truth.  His words are rendered in the Mass translation, “Does this [teaching on My Body and Blood] shock you?”  A better, more literal translation is, “Does this scandalize you?”  But we have to be careful here.  In more modern English, we often use the word scandalize to mean something like, “cause shock and dismay at someone because a serious hidden fault is revealed” – for example, when a man has an affair with his neighbor’s wife and that fact becomes publicly known.  The biblical meaning is different.  A skandalon is a stumbling-stone.  For example, if you are hiking on a rocky mountain path, and you trip and fall over an embedded rock so you can’t keep going, that is being scandalized.   So Jesus is really asking, “Does this ‘trip you up’?  Does it prevent you from continuing to follow Me the way I want you to, because you can’t handle the truth.


Think of the well-known scene in 1992 movie, A Few Good Men (about 8:00 in clip), where the Tom Cruise character is grilling the Jack Nicholson character.  The exchange goes like this:  “[Nicholson]  “You want answers?... [Cruise:]: I want the truth!  [Nicholson:] You can’t handle the truth!”


So here begin some of the saddest, most poignant words of the Gospels.  St. John records that, because many of the disciples can’t ‘handle the truth’ of His teaching on His plan to implement the sacrament of the Holy Eucharist, “[they] returned to their former way of life and no longer walked with Him.”  And to increase that poignancy, Jesus recognize that even His own chosen Apostles may be in doubt, as He asks them, “Do you also want to leave?”


We can’t help but notice that in His great love, Our Lord does not force the truth on anyone, but instead gives everyone the freedom to accept or reject it. Even St. Peter, usually bold, still seems hesitant.  He trusts the Lord enough to acknowledge that He has the words of eternal life, but we can almost hear implied in his response, “To whom shall we go?” a hint of doubt, as if to say, “I wish there were some other choice, because it is hard for me to believe what you are saying – but still I most follow the truth of your words, wherever they take me."


The conclusion to this passage has enormous implications for our Christian life and even our relationship with our fellow non-Catholic Christians.  When we recall the history of the Church, we remember that the Apostles were His first priests, who would certainly have celebrated the holy Mass and (all save one) given up their lives for proclaiming the Gospel and celebrating the sacraments.  For two millennia, countless heroic priests have risked their lives and even given them up in martyrdom to celebrate Mass, so that Catholics persecuted for their faith could receive the Holy Eucharist.  (If our children and grandchildren don’t know the history of these ‘martyrs of the Eucharist. It is up to us to teach them!)


Many of us (including myself) are deeply saddened by our friends and family members who have left the Catholic Church and her Eucharistic treasure.  We wish we could shake some sense and belief into them, or that the Lord would “whop them upside the head with a spiritual two-by-four” to make them believe.  But that is not His style, His m.o.  Instead, he leaves it to us to pray for them, gently to challenge them, to bring them to know the Scriptures (such as John 6) and tradition and belief of the Church from the beginning, and to increase our own Eucharistic devotion and witness, all so that they may freely choose fully to return to Christ, to be able to “handle the truth” that the Lord gives in order to keep us united in the great sacrament of unity and keep us fed and nourished with His very Body and Blood.  We continue to pray and act so that they may accept all of the gifts and graces Our Lord grants in His goodness to help us on our way to Heaven, most especially the supremely powerful, beautiful, and necessary gift of the Blessed Sacrament.