“Lord, To Whom Shall We Go?”
Ordinary 21 Year B
A Hebrew Catholic Perspective
St. John 6: 60 — 71
We come now to the closing portion of the chapter we have been walking through, pausing to meditate on the immensely rich contents. In the International Three-year Lectionary, this reading (actually verses 60 — 69) is coupled with verses from Joshua 24.
With boldness and clarity, Joshua, followed by others of the twelve tribes of Israel, declares his allegiance to the Lord God, who has been ever-present and faithful to the people of Israel in leading them from slavery to freedom. In like manner, Peter speaks for the twelve who were symbolic of those ancient tribes: he acknowledges the God who is source and sustainer of life for all, in the words and person of Jesus. (Mary Betz)
Some Reflections On the Text
Then many of his disciples who were listening said, “This
saying is hard; who can accept it?”
Earlier in chapter 6, the learned authorities and others had expressed
their displeasure at what our Lord had explained to them:
• I am the bread of life; he who comes to me shall not hunger,
and he who believes in me shall never thirst. John 6: 35
• I am the bread that came down from heaven. John 6: 41
• Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me,
and I in him. John 6: 56
In verse 60, we are told that even some of his disciples (not the Apostles) were reacting negatively: many of them said, “This saying is hard”, meaning hard to accept, not so much, hard to understand. They were most likely referring to verses 53 — 58, but could have been referring to the whole discourse. “Who is able”, they added, “to agree with what he is trying to say?”
In fact, they found the teaching of Jesus unacceptable precisely because it was not in accord with their expectations. In other words, it was not what they wanted to hear!
Since Jesus knew that his disciples were murmuring about
this, he said to them, “Does this shock you?
In the text we read, “But Jesus knew in himself” that they were grumbling about the “hard” teaching. To know one’s self reflects Semitic Greek, and its purpose is to indicate the supernatural knowledge Jesus had (see also 1: 47 — 48, and 2: 25). (Newman and Nida)
In response, Jesus said to those grumbling, words to the effect: Does this make you want to give up your faith?
What if you were to see the Son of Man ascending to where
he was before?
Our Lord continued by asking the grumblers a kind of question but did not complete his sentence. It went something like: “What, then, if you were to see the Son of Man ascend to where he was before…..?”
J. C. Ryle helps to enlighten us a little on the impact of this question:
This means, “What will ye think and say of my ascension into
heaven?” What will your feelings be, if you behold this body
of mine going up to that heaven from whence I came down?
Will you not be much more offended?” (See John 3: 12.)
The first thing, we must remember, that the Jews “murmured” about, was our Lord’s saying that He “came down from heaven.” The second thing was, His saying that He would “give them His flesh to eat.” Both times our Lord’s human body was the subject. — Here our Lord asks them what they would think if they saw that same body “ascending up” into heaven.
Even then, after His ascension, they would have to “eat His flesh, and drink His blood.” if they desired eternal life. What would they think of that? Would they not find it even more difficult to receive and believe?
Verses 63 and 64(a)
Without waiting for an answer, or even a fair question, Jesus continued:
It is the spirit that gives life, while the flesh is of no avail.
The words I have spoken to you are spirit and life.
But there are some of you who do not believe.”
As we know, God’s Spirit frequently appears as the source of life
|in both the Old and New Testaments. This concept is given
particular emphasis in the Gospel of John. For example, it is
God’s Spirit which brings about the new birth (3: 5, 8), and the
Spirit is life-giving water (7: 38 — 39).
In our translation above, Jesus said, “….the flesh counts for nothing”. In the Old Testament “flesh” is often used as a description of mortal man in contrast with God, who is life-giving Spirit. That is clearly the meaning in the present context. Thus it may be clearer if we translate it as, “Man’s power is of no use at all”, or “People themselves cannot do this”. (Newman and Nida. UBS)
Our Lord, clearly, is not negating His earlier comments about needing to be united to His flesh and blood.
Verses 64 (b) and 65
Although the core of this discourse has been completed, Jesus found it necessary in verses 61 — 63 to deal with a little audience “feed-back”. He added his final remarks:
Jesus knew from the beginning the ones who would not
believe and the one who would betray him.
And he said, “For this reason I have told you that no one
can come to me unless it is granted him by my Father.”
Why did our Lord refer to some who did not believe, and in fact suggest that some would betray him? He was well aware, from his astute observations, the difficulties different groups of people were having. It seems he felt the time had come to confront them with a serious flaw in their religious system.
Ryle has some helpful comments:
(There are some of you that believe not.) The connection of
this sentence with the preceding verses seems to be this:
“The true account of your murmuring and thinking my sayings
‘hard’ is your want of faith. You do not really believe Me to
be the Messiah, though you have followed Me and professed
yourselves my disciples. And not really believing in Me, you
are offended at the idea of eating my flesh and drinking my
Jesus knew from the beginning who ….. believed not.
This is one of the many places which declare our Lord’s Divine
knowledge of all hearts and characters…….
When it says “from the beginning,” it probably means from the
beginning of His ministry, and from the time when the
unbelieving ‘many’ before Him first professed to be His disciples.
Of course our Lord, as God, knew all thing’s “from the beginning”
of the world. But it does not seem necessary to suppose that
this is meant here.
(Who should betray Him.) We should not fail to notice in this
expression our Lord’s marvellous patience in allowing one
whom He knew to be about to betray Him to be one of His
Apostles. It was doubtless meant to teach us that false
profession must be expected everywhere and must not
surprise us. How much we ought to tolerate and put up with,
if our Lord tolerated Judas near Him! The pain and sorrow
which the foreknowledge of the conduct of Judas must have
caused to our Lord’s heart, is a circumstance in our Lord’s
sufferings which ought not to be forgotten.
Jesus then repeated an earlier declaration:
And he said, “For this reason I have told you that no one can
come to me unless it is granted him by my Father.”
This is indeed very plain talk from our Lord as Ryle similarly interprets:—
The connection of this verse seems to be as follows:
“There are some of you that believe not, and that is the reason
why I said to you that no man can come to Me unless the
Father gives him grace to come, and draws his heart to Me.
The Father has not given you grace, and drawn you to Me,
and therefore you do not believe.”
In a Hebraic mode of expression, our Lord does not imply that God is displeased with their attitudes, therefore He will not extend His grace and mercy to them. Instead He emphasises the failure on their part to respond to God — and this means they are responsible for their hardness of heart. They are the authors of their own fate.
Verses 66 and 67
As a result of this, many (of) his disciples returned to their
former way of life and no longer accompanied him.
Jesus then said to the Twelve, “Do you also want to leave?”
At this point, not only had a lot of the general observers and Pharisees left Jesus, but many of his disciples also “turned back and no longer followed Him”. It was a sad moment for our Lord as they in fact were deserting him. They had been drawn by the Father to Jesus: now they turned their backs on him.
Jesus then spoke to the Twelve, or rather earnestly inquired how they felt about still being His chosen twelve:
You do not want to leave me too, do you?
Verses 68 and 69
Simon Peter answered him, “Master, to whom shall we go?
You have the words of eternal life.
We have come to believe and are convinced that you are
the Holy One of God.”
Simon Peter, as usual, took the lead and answered on behalf of the Twelve:
Knecht sums up the situation:
Peter, the head and mouthpiece of the Church, made this
beautiful answer in the name of the rest: “Lord, to whom shall
we go?” (who but thou canst lead us unto life?) Thou hast the
words of eternal life, words of eternal truth which lead men
to eternal life. And even if we cannot understand the
mysterious words which Thou hast spoken, still we do not
doubt them, but believe them, because we have believed and,
through faith, have known that Thou art Christ the Son of God.
Thus the apostles stood the test splendidly. They remained
true to our Lord, openly confessed Him to be the Son of God,
and placed themselves in opposition to their unbelieving
Our Lord is clearly much re-assured; so much so he gave them a warning to ensure they did not become misled.
Verses 70 and 71
Jesus answered them, “Did I not choose you twelve?
Yet is not one of you a devil?”
He was referring to Judas, son of Simon the Iscariot;
it was he who would betray him, one of the Twelve.
There are two very decisive warnings in this passage and we need to be aware of them.
First, there is in the early part of the text (verses 60 — 64), the familiar situation of our Lord’s followers drifting or even deliberately turning away because they are not hearing the doctrine they want from him. This is a dire warning to Christians to take the greatest care in discerning the presentation of our Lord’s teaching as recorded in the Gospels principally, but also the rest of the New Testament.
The second warning is even more severe. Having heard his closest disciples, through St. Peter (verse 69) declare that they will remain his followers because he “alone” has “words of eternal life”, Jesus feels moved to alert them to an ever-present danger. Even the most elite, the closest to him, can fall victim to the devil and become overtaken within by him. His closest associates will not realise he is possessed until the damage is done. Even a Peter can let the smoke of Satan into the Holy Sanctuary! Sadly Christianity in our day is in danger of collapse because of a line of deceitful, smooth, slick collaborators who have abused their authority or status and conspired to take over control themselves, for their own power-crazed ambitions. They need to remember that Jesus has declared in detail how he will deal with devils; when he is ready!
Despite the length of our notes, we have barely scratched the surface of this complex Gospel document. It is a great treasure of the Church and deserves our best efforts to unpack its riches. Let us pray for one another as we try to do so.
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Proclaim the Gospel to Every Creature
(Mark 16: 15)
Let us remember God’s Teaching, contained in His Word and
Lord, To Whom Shall We Go?
Ordinary 21 Year B St. John 6: 60 to 71
1. Jesus said, “The words I have spoken to you are spirit and life”.
We have seen our Lord, in this passage, having to work desperately hard to reach the hearts of all His listeners, the educated and the uneducated. The real difficult ones in this crowd are opponents of Jesus struggling to prevent the common people taking Him at His word. When they said, “This saying is hard,” our Lord did not try to alter their perception by calling out, “You guys are taking me too literally! Can’t you see I’m just talking figuratively speaking!” They heard Him correctly but chose interiorly to reject what He had proclaimed about the Bread from Heaven: the Bread of Life.
In today’s world, the words of Jesus are even harder to discern and believe. People are openly admitting they don’t ponder the Scriptures, but expect a brief sermon once a week to supply all they need in this regard. Many are finding such an impoverished diet to be hopelessly inadequate! So what are we going to do? How can we call our people back to what is becoming more and more foreign to them: meditating on the Word of God. Whatever our thoughts are, clearly we must pray for the whole world and its needs.
2. Simon Peter said, “Rabbi, to whom shall we go?” St. Peter was right on target. He didn’t say to what? He said, to whom?
Christians feel powerless to hold their young back from attending musical festivals which openly and proudly celebrate partnership with the devil. Many of our youth say they are inspired by contemporary pop culture. Social commentators scoff at attempts to divert these youth towards religion, which they are quick to demean.
We are locked in a power struggle ― we should make no bones about that. The heat is on and our detractors are winning hands down!
Members of our Faith must see very clearly that our youth, despite our “youth programmes” etc. are simply unarmed for combat. We are unsure what we should believe ourselves and even less confident what we should be passing on.
The situation is not hopeless but it is a serious mess. There is hope, but until the people speak up and get real, the “serious mess” will infect the whole body. The mess after all, is a judgment on the Church as a whole, and we are all therefore, in it together!
Let’s pray for discernment and the courage to speak with St. Peter’s clarity: to whom shall we go? And let’s keep our focus strictly on Jesus and His whole “curriculum” of study as He presented it during His three year ministry. Now that means getting down to some pretty serious study! You bet!
3. Jesus said “….. is not one of you a devil?” Our Lord had His own personal betrayor tracking His every word and every move.
It would appear Judas had a faulty streak in his character even before he was called by Jesus to become a disciple. But in all honesty, who didn’t? None of the disciples (even those later to be ordained apostles) were perfect. They all had personality faults which needed correction. They all responded generously to the training programme of Jesus and thus their weaknesses were diminished and their inner strengths developed.
But Judas had his own agenda and rejected our Lord’s personal outreach to him. It is, however, a major error to label him a devil who was hauled in to do a job!
Any of us can go the same way and if we take a close look around us, some have. It is not a matter of witch-hunting or scapegoating others ― we can’t be self-righteous. No matter how high up we think we are in God’s service, we remain very vulnerable to self-aggrandisement and pride.
This can only be avoided by very close communion with the Lord ― who knowing this, gives Himself to us as the Bread of Life for this very purpose. Blessed be God.
John 6: 60 to 71
Ordinary 21 Year B
60 20 Then many of his disciples who were listening said,
61 Since Jesus knew that his disciples were murmuring
62 What if you were to see the Son of Man ascending to
63 It is the spirit that gives life, while the flesh 22 is of no
64 But there are some of you who do not believe.” Jesus
65 And he said, “For this reason I have told you that no one
66 As a result of this, many (of) his disciples returned to their
67 Jesus then said to the Twelve, “Do you also want to leave?”
68 Simon Peter answered him, “Master, to whom shall we go?
69 We have come to believe and are convinced that you are the
70 Jesus answered them, “Did I not choose you twelve? Yet is
71 He was referring to Judas, son of Simon the Iscariot; it was
20 [60-71] These verses refer more to themes of ⇒ John 6:35-50 than to those of ⇒ John 6:51-58 and seem to be addressed to members of the Johannine community who found it difficult to accept the high christology reflected in the bread of life discourse.
21  This unfinished conditional sentence is obscure. Probably there is a reference to ⇒ John 6:49-51. Jesus claims to be the bread that comes down from heaven (⇒ John 6:50); this claim provokes incredulity (⇒ John 6:60); and so Jesus is pictured as asking what his disciples will say when he goes up to heaven.
22  Spirit . . . flesh: probably not a reference to the eucharistic body of Jesus but to the supernatural and the natural, as in ⇒ John 3:6. Spirit and life: all Jesus said about the bread of life is the revelation of the Spirit.
Scripture texts in this work are taken from the New American Bible, revised
Ryle On John 6: 68 — 71
68 [Thou hast the words of eternal life] This would be more literally rendered, “Thou has words of eternal life”. “Thou possesses instruction about everlasting life, such as we can hear nowhere else, and such as we find soul-comforting and edifying. ‘The sayings that fall continually from Thy lips, about eternal life, are such as we cannot leave.” Our Lord’s expression should be remembered, “I have given unto them the words which Thou gavest Me.” (John 17: 8.)
69. [And we believe and are sure.] This would be more literally rendered, “We have believed and have known.” Moreover, the “we” is emphatic – Whatever others may please to think, however many may go away and forsake Thee, after following Thee for a little, it is not so with us. We have believed and known, and do believe and know.” [Thou that Christ, the Son of the living God.] This might equally well have been rendered, “Thou art the Christ.” The sentence is a noble confession, when we remember the time in which it was made, and the universal unbelief of the leaders of the Jewish nation. We may remember that it is precisely the same confession that is recorded to have been made by Peter, after which our Lord said to him, “Blessed art thou, Simon Barjona, for flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but my Father which is in heaven.” (Matt. 16: 17.)
We must not, however, misunderstand the extent of Peter’s confession. He declared his faith that our Lord was the Anointed Messiah, the Son of the living God. The Messiahship and divinity of Christ were the points on which he and the other apostles laid firm hold. But the sacrifice and death of Christ, and His substitution for us on the cross, were not things which he either saw or understood at present. (See Matt. 16: 22 — 23.)
(a) We should notice that a man’s heart may be right towards God, while he remains very ignorant of some great doctrines of the Christian faith. It certainly was so with Peter and the apostles, at this time.
(b) We should also notice that there is nothing man is so backward to see as the sacrifice of the death of Christ, the substitution, and the atonement. It is possible to be right about Christ’s divinity and Messiahship, and yet be in the dark about His death.
(c) We should notice how ignorant Christians often are of the state of others’ souls. Peter never suspected any one of the twelve to be a false apostle. It is a fearful proof that Judas must have been, in all outward demeanour and profession, just like the rest of the apostles. [One of you is a devil.] This is a singularly strong expression, and gives an awfully vivid impression of the wickedness of Judas. Of course, he was not literally and really “a devil,” but a man. The meaning is, “one out of your number is so completely under the influence of the devil, such a servant of the devil, that he deserves to be called nothing less than a devil.”
Let us note, that even now Judas is called “a devil,” long before our Lord’s betrayal and crucifixion. This helps to show that he never was a faithful disciple, even from the first.
Ryle’s meaning is that any impure thought Judas had about the Messiah was never attended to by him, and thus grew more and more evil. Ryle is not saying that when called, he had his whole evil intention in mind. It grew because he chose to pursue that path to destruction (Editor).
Let us note that the only other expression of our Lord, which at all approaches the one before us in strength, is the one which, on another occasion, our Lord applies to His zealous apostle Peter, — “Get thee behind me, Satan.” (Matt. 16: 23) While we condemn the wickedness of Judas, let us not forget that even a truehearted apostle may so far err and be mistaken, that he needs to be sharply rebuked and called “Satan.”
71 [He spake of Judas Iscariot the son of Simon.] The word “Iscariot” according to some, means “a man of Kerioth.” Kerioth was a town of Judah. (Josh. 15: 25.) — According to others it means “a. man of Issachar.” — According to Lampe, and others, it is a Syriac word, meaning “the bearer of the purse” — We are told that “He had the bag.” (John 13: 29.)
It is remarkable that St. John, four times in his Gospel, calls Judas “the son of Simon.” We do not exactly know why, Unless it is that Simon was a person well known by name, or that St John wished to make it quite clear that .Judas Iscariot was not St. Jude, the faithful apostle and cousin of Christ, by naming his father. There is no proof whatever, that Judas; was the son of Simon the Cananite,” the apostle; though it is somewhat curious, that in the list of apostles given by Matthew and Mark. Simon and Judas Iscariot are named in close juxtaposition. (Matt. 10: 4 ; Mark 3: 18.)
The frequency of our Lord’s warnings and hints, addressed to Judas Iscariot, is very remarkable. Rollock observes what an awful proof it is of the hardness of the heart, that a man so warned should not be conscience-stricken and repent.
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