Do You also Wish to Go Away?
Fr. Francis Scaria
On some occasions in life, pastors go through the experience which Jesus himself went through in Jn 6. Jesus was giving one of the most important teachings about the Eucharist. In verse 15, we are told that the people, in large numbers, were taken up by the preaching of the Word of God and the multiplication of the bread. They wanted to make Jesus king. Jesus had to withdraw to the mountain by himself.
The crowd seemed to be so enthusiastic about Jesus’ ministry even on the following day. In verses 22 to 25, we find the enthusiastic crowd frantically looking for Jesus. Yet Jesus is not carried away by such a deceptive enthusiasm. This fact is reflected in his response, “Very truly I tell you, you are looking for me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of loaves”(Jn 6:26). Here we find Jesus teaching about the Eucharist. After listening to Jesus, many of his disciples said, “This teaching is difficult; who can accept it?” Most of them went away and Jesus was left with the twelve. We do not find Jesus calling them all back with promises of some adjustments. He did not seek popularity at the cost of the truth. Instead he turned to the twelve. He gives them too a chance to make an option, a choice asking them, “Do you also wish to go away?” Peter’s answer was instant: “Lord to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life” (Jn 6:28). We do not find Peter consulting other disciples before giving that answer. I believe that if Peter were to consult the other eleven before answering, there would probably have been a group among the twelve who also would want to leave. Here we find Peter already exercising the ministry of “strengthening the brothers” (cf. Lk 22:32) leaving no space for a rethinking. Peter’s words strengthened those who were wavering.
Of course, this was one of the most frustrating time during Jesus’ ministry. The people who went away included many who had been healed of their sicknesses and those who had witnessed many of his miracles. Jesus had to be patient. This crowd not only left him but would reappear with the cry “crucify him”. How hurting must that have been for Jesus! One among the twelve betrayed him. When he was caught to be killed, all of them ran away. Even Peter who had promised not to go away denied him three times. The scene seems to re-echo the sentiments of Prophet Elijah at Mount Horeb: “I have been very zealous for the Lord, the God of hosts; for the Israelites have forsaken your covenant, thrown down your altars, and killed your prophets with the sword. I alone am left, and they are seeking my life, to take it away” (1 Kgs 19:14).
Yes, the grain of wheat had to die. We find the total disintegration of the grain at the crucifixion before the sprouting could begin. We see the plant taking shape as Peter standing with the twelve addressed the crowd stood in front of “people from every nation under heaven” (Act 2:5).
This chain of events repeats in the lives of believers too. Very often our reason tells us that it is better to go away that to die. Yet, we need to lose to gain, die to live. We need to allow the grain of wheat to die. May the Lord give us his strength!