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The Gospel of John has preserved the story of a powerful crisis among Jesus’ followers. We only just have facts. It only tells us that the disciples find Jesus’ way of speaking harsh. Probably the acceptance he asks of them seems excessive. At one point, «many of his disciples went away and accompanied him no more».
For the first time Jesus experiences that his words don’t have the desired force. However he doesn’t take them back, but reaffirms them even more: «The words I have spoken to you are spirit and they are life. But there are some of you who do not believe». His words seem harsh, but they transmit life, make us come alive, since they contain God’s Spirit.
Jesus doesn’t lose his cool. The failure doesn’t upset him. Turning to the Twelve he puts a decisive question: «What about you, do you want to go away too?». He doesn’t want to keep them by force. He allows them the freedom to decide. His disciples mustn’t be servants, but friends. If they want to, they can return to their houses.
Once again, Peter answers in the name of them all. He answer is exemplary. Sincere, humble, sensitive, and proper of a disciple who knows Jesus sufficiently so as to not abandon him. His attitude could still today help those whose wavering faith suggests that they make do without any faith at all.
«Lord, to whom shall we go?». It makes no sense to abandon Jesus just like that, without having found a better and more convincing teacher. If they don’t follow Jesus, they are left without knowing whom to follow. They shouldn’t rush into it. It’s not good to get left without light or a guide in life.
Peter is realistic. Is it good to abandon Jesus without having found a more convincing and attractive hope? Is it enough to substitute a lesser style of life, one with hardly any goals or horizon? Is it better to live without questions, approaches or searching of any kind?
There’s something that Peter doesn’t forget: «You have the message of eternal life». He feels that Jesus’ words aren’t empty or deceitful words. Alongside of Jesus they have discovered life anew. His message has opened for them a life eternal. Where could they find better news of God?
Peter remembers lastly the fundamental experience. Living with Jesus, he has discovered that Jesus comes from God’s mystery. From far away, at long distance, out of indifference or disinterest you can’t recognize the mystery that Jesus contains. The Twelve have handled it up close and personal. That’s why they can say: «We believe, we have come to know that you are the Holy One of God». They will keep following close to Jesus.
José Antonio Pagola
Translator: Fr. Jay VonHandorf