21st Sunday of Ordinary Time (B)
For the past five weeks the Sunday readings from the Lectionary have taken a detour from the regularly scheduled gospel of Mark to focus on Jesus’ “bread of life” discourse found in the gospel of John, chapter 6. When I read scripture, it is always with an ear toward discipleship, so for me this “interruption” is almost as if Jesus is saying, “Look, you can’t just tag along forever and marvel over my great works, I’m not the entertainment. It’s time to put some skin in the game.” Well, alright, then.
With the miraculous feeding of the 5000 Jesus tested the faith of his disciples [JN 6:1-15]. A short time later, Jesus identified himself as the true bread from heaven and presented the crowd with the requirements of discipleship:
- First, anyone wishing to do the work of God must believe that Jesus was sent by God [JN 6:24-35];
- Second, not only must Jesus’ identity and mission be accepted, it must be internalized like a hearty meal, [JN 6:41-51];
- Third, along with this consumption of Jesus’ identity and mission, those who accepted Jesus must then open themselves to a complete change of consciousness and radical lifestyle which carries risks but ultimately leads to eternal life with God [JN 6:51-58].
Finally, after witnessing the departure of many in the crowd, Jesus turned his attention to his disciples. Did they understand? Did they have what it takes to fulfill the requirement of discipleship? Would they stay or would they go? [JN 6:60-69]
Jesus’ teaching made the crowds very uncomfortable. It ran counter to their understanding of the divide between human and divine life. He blended physical life with spiritual life in a way that derailed traditional concepts of a transcendent, omnipotent God. Not only did Jesus claim intimate knowledge of God’s nearness and the existence of eternal life with God, Jesus said that HE was the way to God and eternal life.
The concept of an intimate God is as challenging today as it was then; it flies in the face of classical theology which stresses our abject unworthiness. Yes, we are sinful, but are we really unworthy? Would the invitation have been offered to us in the first place if we were unworthy of it? Entering into Christ’s consciousness opens us up to this truth. Jesus shows us what human perfection looks like, and invites us to strive to be like him and share in his glory. In doing so, we are transformed.
Some of the disciples found Jesus’ words hard to swallow and returned to their ordinary life. [JN 6:66] Those who remained with him understood, or at least the text tells us they did. “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” [JN 6:68-69]. We know that is not the end of the story for Peter; we know his faith was not yet as rock solid as it would one day be. But the transformation of Peter and the others had already begun.
No doubt, this is hard stuff. We prefer our Jesus patiently awaiting us, perhaps standing in a fragrant meadow with his hands extended towards ours. I know I do. The truth is the cost of discipleship is dear. Jesus is pretty firm on the requirements (see above). Discipleship means loving God and neighbor in a radical way. It requires us to be servants, to behave a certain way, to detach from the idea of self-sufficiency, to make sacrifices, to do the hard stuff and be prepared to do it again and again until like the crowd of 5000, everyone is fed. Discipleship entails accompanying Jesus to the cross, and taking up the counter-cultural task of changing the world one step at a time. And we do this not because we are stained, we do it because we are beloved and worthy of the task.
Look around you. Can you see all the good disciples quietly at work in the world?
 17-21st Sundays of Ordinary Time, Year B. Although John 6 is read in weekday liturgies the second week of Easter, their proclamation on Sundays occurs just once in the three-year lectionary cycle. It is important to pay particular attention and discern how the message applies to your faith life.