To Whom Shall We Go?

From today’s Gospel:

From this time many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him.
“You do not want to leave too, do you?” Jesus asked the Twelve.
Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.
We have come to believe and to know that you are the Holy One of God.”
– John 6:66-68

“To whom shall we go?” This is a sweet thing for Peter to say, isn’t it? He is saying, “Why would we want to be with anybody else? You’re so great!” At least, this is partly what he is saying.

But he is also giving a backhanded compliment. Jesus has just finished telling them that, if they want to live, they will have to eat his flesh and drink his blood. So Peter is also saying: “Following you is weird and distressing. But every other option is worse, so I guess we’re stuck.”

And of course the compliment isn’t too backhanded, because he also praises the words of Jesus: “You have the words of everlasting life.” What are those words?

I think Peter is expressing a certain special quality of encountering Jesus and listening to him. It is the quality that made the disciples on the road to Emmaus say: “Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us?” (Luke 24:32) It is the quality that the sheep recognize in the voice of the shepherd, whose “sheep follow him because they know his voice.” (John 10:4) It is the quality that makes the temple guards say, “No one ever spoke like this man does!” (John 7:46)

In college, when I was a sheep without a shepherd — or anyway, a sheep who was rushing around too frantically, and had too many barbs tangled in his fleece, to be able to listen to the voice of all the shepherds who had been sent — I had a theology professor whose lectures always brought balm to my soul. The lectures didn’t offer solutions to my personal problems. They didn’t offer insight into any of my difficult relationships. They weren’t, actually, about me or my problems at all.

All he did was to talk about the Gospel, about Jesus. His words were not instructions on untying my knots; instead, his voice was a voice from beyond those knots. It was a voice from a world where those knots were unimportant — or, not unimportant, but forgotten in the presence of something greater. A voice carrying with it the cool breeze of reality. In speaking about Jesus, he somehow spoke with the voice of Jesus. The voice of the shepherd. The words of eternal life.

His words took me out of my problems, but it was something different from escapism. Escapism means escape into the realm of something less real than the current situation; a drug that makes you feel good for no reason, a movie that makes you stop thinking by drowning you in trivialities, a hookup that blots out loneliness with a simulacrum of intimacy.

But when Jesus speaks, if we have ears to hear, we hear something more real than whatever we’re mired in, whatever busy thoughts occupy us, waking and sleeping, for 23 out of 24 hours of the day. We hear a voice that calls us, not away from reality, but deeper into it, further up and further in.1

I was speaking recently with a new friend, someone who came into the Church only months ago. She was still uncomfortable with a lot of the things she saw: the rigidity of some strands of Catholic culture; the not-really-very-obvious distinction between venerating the Blessed Mother and adoring her; the politics, the infighting, the scandals, the pettiness.

Why did she become a Catholic, then? I wanted to know. What drew her?

“I wanted the Eucharist,” she said. To whom else could she go for that?

To whom else can any of us go? The words of Jesus challenge and dismay us. His standards are at once impossibly high and scandalously low. But who else speaks with his voice? Who else offers anything but distractions? Who else offers us the beating heart of reality itself?

1 If this quote of Lewis’ sounds sort of sexual to you, you’re not wrong. Not that Lewis meant it sexually (which I doubt) but: what is penetration if not an attempt to inhabit reality more deeply?


14 Comments on “To Whom Shall We Go?”

  1. Lori says:

    Amen.

    Jesus’ question to the 12 has always made me sad. Peter’s answer always seems to convey a very deep longing.

    Thank you for writing this – I really enjoy the way you write and have missed you!

  2. anonymous says:

    –Perhaps you can endure a God who gives commands,
    but can you live with a God who says nothing?

  3. Kyle says:

    Nicely written! The silence of Jesus in the Eucharist is not an empty silence, but one that silences us so as to be filled with Him.

    1. Nice! That sounds Madonna House-y.

  4. Alexis says:

    Great to have you back!

    One of the Church Fathers (can’t remember which) said, “Notice that Jesus doesn’t ask his disciples to understand the teaching, just to accept it.” It always comes down to: trusting in the one who loves you. Sad to think of the millions of Christians who do not accept this. Blessed are we who are called to the supper of the Lamb!

  5. Anna says:

    All I can think of is the Terminator saying “Come with me if you want to live!”

    1. …you saw that I linked that video, right? Or are we just having a same-wavelength moment?

      1. Anna says:

        oh, MAN, I did not see that! But I did think you’d think it was funny, if not super relevant.

  6. Andrea says:

    Just found your blog through. Catholic Patheos. You should keep writing.

  7. Becky says:

    Yeah, that’s a good idea! Keep on writing! (I knew you would be back! If I just waited long enough. )

  8. Vikki says:

    I loved, LOVED, LOVED this:
    “I had a theology professor whose lectures always brought balm to my soul. The lectures didn’t offer solutions to my personal problems. They didn’t offer insight into any of my difficult relationships. They weren’t, actually, about me or my problems at all.

    All he did was to talk about the Gospel, about Jesus. His words were not instructions on untying my knots; instead, his voice was a voice from beyond those knots. It was a voice from a world where those knots were unimportant — or, not unimportant, but forgotten in the presence of something greater.”

    YES. That’s what God’s people want! And that’s the effect it has on us, and… why do so many who are well-meaning lose sight of that?

  9. David Roberts says:

    Looking back at the Hebrew scriptures, what was the physical nature of the covenant that God made with Abraham, the father of the jewish people? On Abraham’s part, there was just one requirement for him and everyone who wanted to subsequently particpate in that covenant – circumcision. Now, talking about weird requirements, surely this takes the cake! Cutting off the tip of your penis!

    There’s a natural part of this that’s obvious; for a man, the penis is the part of the body that most represents his attraction to worldly pleasures. See a woman/man that appeals to you? It’s your penis that physically responds. So cutting off the tip of that body part figuratively represents a commitment to attempt to control your response to that attraction. Abraham agreed to circumcize everyone of his male offspring on the 8th day (coincidentally the day on which the clotting factor is activated in our blood).

    God tells us that this was a shadow of what was truly His intention – that we enter into a covenant with Him where we agree to have our hearts circumcized.

  10. S says:

    Good read for an occasionally lukewarm heart, such as mine. Yeah, it’s hard following Christ, but what else are you going to do, butthead?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *