Joshua 24:1-2, 15-18
Joshua offers the Israelites a clear choice: serve the God who set you free or the gods of your ancestors. As their leader, he is clear about where he stands and he invites the people to declare themselves unambiguously. The people’s response is a timely profession of faith in their God. If they are to live as God’s people in the land, they can no longer waver in their allegiance. They need to be true to themselves and to the covenant they have made with their God.
If we have trouble coming to terms with some of the teachings of Jesus, we can take comfort from the reaction of the disciples in today’s gospel. It was not only the members of the Jewish synagogue who were offended by his teaching, but also those who had accepted Jesus as Messiah and had joined the community of believers.
‘This teaching is difficult; who can accept it?’ they complain. Jesus’ response introduces new teaching, teaching that only raises more questions in their minds. He links ‘spirit’ with ‘life’. Having used the term ‘flesh’ of his body and of the life that he offers to those who eat of his flesh, he now introduces an element of doubt: flesh is now ‘useless’!
It is typical of John to use the same word in a variety of ways. Here ‘flesh’ is used negatively to refer to human weakness and sinfulness in contrast with ‘spirit’ which evokes the creative spirit of God that moved over the waters at creation and the spirit that informed the word of the prophets.
Jesus lays the ground for offering progressively deeper insights into his identity and destiny and into the meaning of the Christian life as the gospel narrative unfolds.
The reference to his ascending recalls the earlier part to the gospel where Jesus is presented as the pre-existent one, the one who comes from God and has already ascended to God (John 3:13). After his death, he will tell Mary Magdalene that he has not yet ascended and instructs her to tell the disciples that he is ascending to God (20:17).
It seems that John wants to emphasise the spiritual origins of Jesus as the eternal word and wisdom of God. Many refuse to grapple with the complexities and implications of this teaching and they turn away. Jesus asks his closest followers if they too will desert. Peter speaks for the twelve when he declares their undying allegiance: ‘To whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life.’
Most of us have wanted to throw it all in at some time or another. Peter’s declaration is a sobering one for us in times of doubt and an encouragement for those who seek to understand more deeply and believe.