Saturday of the Third Week of Easter – Jn 6:60-69
Today’s Gospel presents us with the rather sad conclusion of the Bread of Life discourse. Many of Christ’s disciples, His own followers, refuse to accept the teaching: yet, rather than change His words, Christ even offers His disciples the chance to walk away. It’s clear that this is something serious, a very important teaching, if Christ even tells His disciples they can leave if they don’t want to follow Him.
There are at least two ways that we can interpret what the disciples mean when they say: “This saying is hard; who can accept it?” Saint Thomas Aquinas says that something is hard either when we don’t understand it, or when it displeases our wills, meaning, it goes against what we’d like or want. Aquinas says that both of these apply to the disciples. On the one hand, the disciples are used to seeing things with human eyes, and with a worldly way of seeing, so Christ’s words are hard to accept because they don’t understand them. In the same way, as the book of Sirach says (6:21), “How very unpleasant is wisdom to the unlearned”: these words are unpleasant and displeasing to the will because they challenge the disciples.
Yet, what does Jesus do? He doesn’t walk back His words, or say, “Hey, I was just kidding; it’s really just a symbol!” No, He allows even them, His closest friends, to walk away. Saint John Chrysostom points out that this was the perfect way to keep them: he writes that “This was the right way to retain them. Had He praised them, they would naturally, as men do, have thought that they were conferring a favor upon Christ, by not leaving Him: by showing, as He did, that He did not need their company, He made them hold the more closely by Him. He does not say, however, Go away, as this would have been to cast them off; but asks whether they wished to go away; thus preventing their staying with Him from any feeling of shame or necessity: for to stay from necessity would be the same as going away.” That’s a very thoughtful examination: had Christ said, “Great work, and thanks for not leaving” the disciples would have given in to pride or thought that they couldn’t leave Christ because He needed them. Rather, Christ gives them the option to stay or to leave. He doesn’t tell them to get lost, but allows them to go, free from shame or necessity. “For to stay from necessity would be the same as going away,” or, as Aquinas puts it “because to serve unwillingly is not to serve at all.” In other words, John Chrysostom means that it implies staying for all the wrong reasons, and it means not making a free choice to follow Christ. It is, rather, to almost be obligated to follow Him.
There are many things here that we can take away for our own lives. First, there are probably “hard sayings” in our own lives. Maybe they aren’t sayings with words, but rather things, people, and the circumstances in our lives that try us. Maybe we can’t see God working in them, or we dislike them, because they go against our desires and likes. However, that doesn’t make them any less a part of God’s plan or His work to save us.
Likewise, we can ask ourselves about how we serve Jesus Christ and His kingdom: “to serve unwillingly is not to serve at all.” Do we embrace all the difficulties, all the challenges that come from following Christ? Or are we reluctant to take up our crosses and follow Him?
Through the intercession of Mary, Mother of Mercy, let’s ask for the grace to be able to serve Christ willingly, to accept even the difficult moments as part of His plan to make us saints.