The theme of Jesus Christ the Bread of Life is presented very elaborately and profoundly in the sixth chapter of the Gospel of St. John. The climax of this discourse on the Bread of Life is found in the passage of John 6:51-58, where Jesus declares most solemnly that "the bread that I shall give is my flesh for the life of the world," and that "If you do not eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in you. Anyone who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I shall raise him up on the last day."
For the Jewish audience, this was an intolerable language. They were shocked, bewildered, and scandalised at these statements. For some He was blaspheming. For others He was simply out of His mind. Yet there are some others who must have seen that he was challenging them to make such a total commitment to Him that would amount to a destabilisation of their many presumptions and accepted beliefs, values and standards. They were not ready to pay the price for such a total commitment, so they began to leave, one after the other. All those numerous people who were hanging around him since the multiplication of loaves began to leave one after the other. And when he turned round and saw Peter and his companions, he asked them: "And what about you, do you want to go away too?" But Peter answered on behalf of the Twelve, "Lord to whom shall we go? You have the message of eternal life, and we believe, we know that you are the Holy One of God."
Peter and his companions chose to stay with Jesus, even though they did not understand clearly what He was saying. They stayed with him, believing that He was the Holy One of God, the One who has the message of eternal life. Though they never fully grasped his teaching, they nevertheless signed a contract of fidelity, to be with Him as it were, come rain, come shine, for better, for worse. With the loss of popularity on the part of Jesus, and more so with the accusation of blasphemy, they knew that the going was going to be tough. Persecution and perhaps violent death was inevitable for their master and themselves. They knew this, yet chose to stay with Jesus.
The most fundamental gift that God has bestowed on humanity is the gift of freedom - freedom to choose to serve him or to reject Him. No matter how fantastic his offer may be, we remain free to accept or refuse it when it challenges our own ideas or our own selfishness. We remain free, but now and again the Lord confronts us with the reality of the decision that must be made, for or against Him. Christianity is therefore about choosing. The life of faith is about the choices we make each day. Jesus told his disciples in Luke 14:26-27 that "Anyone who comes to me without first hating his father, mother, wife, children, brothers, sisters, yes, and his own life too, cannot be my disciples. No one who does not carry his cross and come after me can be my disciple.
In Luke 11:23 he says that "Anyone who is not with me is against me; and anyone who does not gather in with me scatters." And in Luke 16:13 he says that "No one can serve two masters: he will either hate the first and love the second, or be attached to the first and despise the second. You cannot be the slave of both God and money." You've got to make a decision; you've got to choose. In Matthew 7:13 he speaks like Moses of the two ways - the narrow way that leads to life, which only few people take, and the wide and spacious way that leads to destruction which many people take. You've got to make a decision; you've got to choose.
Christian discipleship has its own cost, and it is a very high cost. The standards set by Jesus for those who choose him are very high. He told the rich young man who wanted to follow him, and who had kept all the commandments "If you want to follow me, go and sell all you have and make treasures for yourself in heaven, and then come follow me." He told his followers in Mt.5:44-45 "love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you; so that you may be children of your Father in heaven." To James and John, the two disciples who wanted to seat one and his right and the other at his left in the Kingdom, he asked: "are you able to drink the cup (of suffering) that I must drink? Can you accept the baptism with which I must be baptised?" He told his disciples to forgive those who hurt them as many as seventy-seven times, if they are to be true followers of Him. Condemning divorce in Mt 19:10-11 he said that who ever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery, and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery. When the disciples heard it they said this was almost impossible to accept. Yes indeed, the standards of Jesus are very high. He says you must be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect (Mt.5:48).
Many of us accept the Jesus of miracles, the Jesus of the prosperity preachers, but when it comes to difficult moments in our life, we often compromise, we equivocate, we engage in double-speak. But there is no room in Christianity for compromise or equivocation. There is no room in Christianity for the Nigerian philosophy of a little to the right and a little to the left. No, in Christianity you must make a choice. You must make a choice for or against Jesus. In the episode recorded in John 6:60-69 Peter made a choice for Jesus. And faced with the temptation to betray Jesus or choose to be faithful to Him, Judas Iscariot exercised his freedom the other way. He betrayed Jesus. So in the conflicts that must arise in your life, Jesus stares at you each time and asks you as He asked the disciples of old: "And what about you? Would you also go away?
In conflicts that must arise between the values of the kingdom - the values of justice, honesty and truth, and the culture of bribery and corruption, you cannot be ambivalent. You must make a choice. In the conflicts that must arise between the virtues of transparency and accountability and the regime of kick backs, fraudulent deals and settlements, you cannot equivocate. You must make a choice. In the conflicts that must arise between the Christian ideals of political leadership as shepherding and selfless service and the reality of rogue leadership and oppressive governance, you cannot
In the conflicts that must arise at home in marriage and family life between the values of sacrificial love, mutual forgiveness, fidelity, chastity and total commitment, and the temptation to harbour resentment, to contemplate revenge, to engage in extra-marital affairs, and to seek separation or divorce, you cannot compromise. You must make a choice. At those crisis times in your life when a decision must be made either to abort a pregnancy or to face the agony and embarrassment of having a handicapped child or of ending abruptly a promising career or educational pursuit because of an unexpected pregnancy, you must make a choice.
In the conflicts that must arise between the ethics of the Kingdom of Christ and the inordinate desire for pleasure, power and security, you must make a choice. In the conflicts that must arise between the gospel values of love, mercy, compassion, humility and meekness which Jesus Christ inaugurated with his very life and the logic of the survival of the fittest expressed in aggression and control which appears more appealing to the men and women of the world, you must make a choice. In the conflicts that must arise between the logic of human solidarity and universal brotherhood and the tendencies of the modern society towards crass individualism and exaggerated materialism, you must make a choice.
In all these conflicts that must arise between the ways of the Kingdom and the ways of the world, Jesus asks you each time as he asked the disciples: "will you also go away?" Yes, at such difficult moments, Jesus stares at you with love and asks: "will you also go away?" In such circumstances of conflict those who walk away from Jesus are exercising their freedom, but by the same token, they are cancelling their pledge. By walking away, they are breaking the contract agreement they made at Baptism when they renounced the devil, declared their faith in Jesus, and promised Him fidelity, come rain, come shine, "for better for worse." And going by the words of Moses in Deuteronomy 30:15, those who reject God and His commandments for whatever reason, and in whatever circumstance, are deliberately choosing death and doom. Yet how often do Christians in moments of crisis choose to look elsewhere for solution, satisfaction and fulfilment!
The Christian faith is a decision, a resolution, and a commitment to God. Such a commitment is supposed to be made with full knowledge of the implications. It is about making concrete choices in the various circumstances that challenge the individual each day. Authentic Christian life is hardly a jolly ride. Christian discipleship costs a great deal. Perhaps too many people accept the Christian calling without ever sitting down to calculate the cost of discipleship, especially in a world dominated by evil. Many people do go some way with Jesus, but when it comes to the difficult demands that He makes, they part ways with Him. The challenge of today is for Christians to recommit themselves to their covenant with God in Christ, and to stick to it like Moses, Joshua and Peter, even when the going is rough.