When Jesus gave the discourse on the Bread of Life in John’s gospel, his audience, who were mainly Jews, found his teaching intolerable. They heard him on one level, which is a physical level. And because they only heard him on a physical level, they understood that Jesus asked them to be cannibals. Upon hearing this, they walked away.
After the unbelieving Jews had left, Jesus was surrounded by his disciples, and he asked them whether they too, wanted to go. You’d think that they decided to remain with Jesus because they had deep faith in him. But that was not the reason. Peter the spokesperson of the group probably uttered a truism, which was hardly a confession of faith when he replied that they had nowhere to go to, because Jesus had the words of everlasting life. You would notice that it was hardly a strong, affirmative statement of faith. It was more like “we don’t really have choice, do we?” type of answer. He knew that Jesus had and was the truth, but he also found himself in a quandary. It was not a very comfortable place to be.
Perhaps that sums up a lot of the truth of our faith lives. If we are true to ourselves and if we are honest to our deepest feelings, there are times when our faith is not something that puts us in a comfortable place either. These are the moments of our lives when we are challenged by the evils and dishonesty of the world. If we are looking out at these through the eyes of our faith, and if we stay with our faith values, it will often not be a very comfortable place to be in either. Parts of us will want to take revenge for hurts, for betrayals and for wounds of various natures caused by others. Inside of us we will realize that there are also areas within us that want to have the last word in an argument, and to trump our adversaries with an upper hand that is not in any way kind. The very excusable and raw elements of us seem to demand that we do not want to forgive, to not be kind, and to be self-seeking. After all, the world seems to get away with a lot of such execrable behaviour. However, if we are constantly aware of our deep Christian calling, and stay true to them, we will also find ourselves uttering the same phrase that Peter did “Lord, we shall we go to? You have the message of eternal life.”
Is this a good place to be in? It’s not necessarily bad to be in a quandary of this sort, where we feel a tug in our lives from two opposing directions. This means that our consciences are working and that we are not resting on our spiritual laurels. Of course, when we know objective truths we should not be wondering whether or not the grass is greener on the other side, but being aware that there is another ‘side’ helps us to be more sensitive to the plight of others, developing a compassion that can often be left under-developed, making us sometimes arrogant in our self-assurance.
I am certain that in our constant search for what ‘thrills and delights’, we will hear Jesus asking us like he asked his disciples that day “What about you, do you want to go away too?” When we are aware of Jesus’ question, don’t be too disconcerted when you find yourself replying like Peter did, when he said “Who shall we go to?” A questioning faith can show a developing faith that allows the grace of God to move one toward holiness.
But perhaps a caveat needs to be added here. One reading this may think that it is ok to leave our children to fend for themselves as far as faith and morals are concerned. That would be as kind a move as push them off a high cliff. Many parents are saying that they are not baptizing their children as infants because they want them to make the decision about the importance of faith and the Church when they are adults. My reply to them is: if they are not made to see the importance of it when they are young and formable, what makes you so sure that they will see the grave importance of it when they are older? There is a great wisdom in infant baptism, but perhaps the problem lies in parents not being able to explain rationally the reason for this sacrament of initiation, either to their children or to themselves.