“This saying is hard; who can accept it?”
This is the response of many who have listened to Jesus as He explained that He Himself is the bread of life and that if we would have life we must eat His flesh and drink His blood. They didn't understand what He was saying. It wasn't time for Him to reveal all that He meant by it. He expected them to trust Him and to continue to follow Him. Many did not. But when asked if they also would leave, Peter, speaking for the twelve said, "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" (vv. 68, 69).
We don't always understand what Jesus is teaching. It's not always clear what it is He is trying to accomplish in our lives. But we need to continue with Him in faith. Because there really is nowhere else to go.
Why does Jesus give us hard sayings? As the priest who said Mass in our parish this morning said in his homily, it is for our good. All of us, as a result of our baptism, are called to be saints. This is a process. Our Lord's hard sayings are opportunities for us to be challenged and to grow. That growth is intended to make us more holy- more like our Lord.
So what was Jesus saying? 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, (v. 63). Jesus did not intend His words to be understood in a natural way; that is, as cannibalism. Rather, they were to be understood in a spiritual way. However, this is not to say that He meant them merely in a symbolic way. Spiritual is still real. In fact, spiritual reality may be said to be even more real than the physical reality we see around us. These words would not be fully understood until our Lord revealed to His disciples the full teaching about the Eucharist.
We have come to believe that this passage, written near the close of the first century, was intended to teach the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist. Jesus is truly and fully present in the Eucharistic elements of bread and wine. This is a precious gift. We are richly blessed through receiving Him in this way. This is a mystery. We cannot fully grasp its meaning. Yet, there is something deep and beyond us here.
Hard sayings are not reasons to turn away from God, or refuse to learn what it is He is saying. They are times to draw near to God. Let us then draw near to hear our Lord's hard sayings and commit to following Him because He alone is the way to eternal life. He will show us what we need to know in time or eternity. We can trust Him. And we must!