21st Sunday Year B
When many of his disciples heard it, they said, "This teaching is difficult; who can accept it?" But Jesus, being aware that his disciples were complaining about it, said to them, "Does this offend you? Then what if you were to see the Son of Man ascending to where he was before? It is the spirit that gives life; the flesh is useless. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life. Because of this many of his disciples turned back and no longer went about with him. So Jesus asked the twelve, "Do you also wish to go away?" Simon Peter answered him, "Lord, to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and know that you are the Holy One of God."
John 6:60 - 63, 66 – 69
After hearing his doctrine many of the followers of Jesus said, "This is intolerable language. How could anyone accept it?" Jesus was aware that his followers were complaining about it and said, "Does this upset you? What if you should see the Son of Man ascend to where he was before? It is the spirit that gives life, the flesh has nothing to offer. The words I have spoken to you are spirit and they are life.”
After this, many of his disciples left him and stopped going with him. Then Jesus said to the Twelve, "What about you, do you want to go away too?"
Simon Peter answered, "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."
In 1946 Fr. Edward Flanagan was famous in the United States and in Ireland. Spencer Tracey had won an Oscar in a film about Fr. Flanagan’s work in Boys Town in Nebraska. On a ten acre site Fr. Flanagan had built cottages, a school and work-shops to offer a home and an education to boys who were homeless or in trouble. There were no fences; he said, “You don’t wall in members of your own family.” He came on a visit to his native Roscommon and went to see some industrial schools and spoke to people who knew about them. He was shocked at what he discovered. He spoke to an audience in Cork. He told them that these institutions were a scandal and a disgrace to the nation. He said, “I don’t believe that a child can be reformed by lock and keys and bars, or that fear can ever develop a child’s character.” He went on to say, “You are the people who permit your children and the children of your communities to go into these institutions of punishment. You can do something about it.”
These words were widely reported but there is no indication that they led to any change. A minister said in the Dail, “I am not disposed to take any notice because his statements are so exaggerated.” What Fr. Flanagan said was “intolerable language.”
Saying what needs to be said Our world would be a better place if people said what needs to be said, even when it provokes an angry response and is judged to be intolerable. This takes courage and self-possession. If you choose to speak the truth when it gives offence, you may lose your friends and you may provoke opposition that will do you harm.
When Jesus described himself as the Bread of Life, he said he would give himself, body and blood, totally and completely for others. People must eat and drink all that he taught, all that he stood for, and even his very Person. Many of his followers protested, “This is intolerable language. Who could accept it?” Jesus did not withdraw his statement or water it down. When they left him, he let them go and gave his apostles the option to go too.
Jesus always said what needed to be said. At one point the Pharisees and some supporters of Herod told him, “We know you are an honest man that you are not afraid of anyone, because a person’s rank means nothing to you, and that you teach the way of God in all honesty.” We see his courageous honesty in this confrontation: “Alas for you, scribes and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs that look handsome on the outside, but inside are full of the bones of the dead and every kind of corruption.” He was to pay dearly for this honesty.