These Scriptural readings underline for us that point a which a person has to describe whether all of the good examples, the advice, and the influence that have been offered are going to be accepted or rejected. It is that decision, really, that makes a difference in a person’s life.
Those whom the Gospel today presents as disciples were at just such a point. Until then they had listened to Christ, and Christ’s words had done a lot for them. But now it was time for them to do something.
By this time, Christ had told them that a truly successful, happy, meaningful human life was to be found in the practice of love of God and love of neighbour. He had told them that such a life was possible because of the relationship that he had come to establish between God and his people, a relationship that is symbolised, brought into being, in the Eucharist, which he called the bread of life, which he even called His own body.
But once he had said that, there was nothing Christ would do to force his listeners to live as he had taught. It was purely up to them to say yes or no. If they said no, as some did, then that would be the end of it. Their lives would stay pretty much as they had been. But if they said yes, their lives, and all of history, would change.
Such a critical point is pictured so simply, so undramatically. There are no voices from heaven. There are no thunderbolts, not even a miracle to sort of pad the decision in Christ’s favour.
But Christ didn’t want to convince them; he wanted to invite them. Thunderbolts and miracles may be fine things, but they fairly compromise a person’s freedom to choose, and if that had been the setting, whatever the apostle’s response might have been – be it fear, awe, obedience – whatever, it would not have been faith.
The same thing is true during the course of our lives when we are called to respond to the invitation that Christ gives to us. Because it is always just that. An invitation. In everything that Christ asks us to do, he leaves us free. He never convinces anyone, he never forces anyone. He asks us to supply our own conviction, to limit our own freedom by the choices that we make.
A choice it is, indeed. We can say at any point in our lives, “Nobody can take this stuff seriously” and walk away. There will always be those who do that. There will be those who simply cannot close the chasm between being a hearer and a doer of the Word: one who has simply listened to Christ, and one who follows Him.
So long as we strive to nourish and deepen our faith in Christ, allow the Eucharist to nourish us on this journey of faith, then like St Peter we will be able to say “Lord, you have the words of eternal life”. Fr Andrew