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.’
Our previous reading had us thinking about people giving up on Jesus. Today let us be a bit more positive. If the giving up of some disciples perhaps left Jesus feeling a bit of a failure, in complete contrast, what sort of massive hit did Jesus feel when Peter said, ‘you have the words of eternal life’. Joy and satisfaction, because here was a disciple who clearly must have been tempted to join the leavers but who came through stronger and deeper and closer. ‘We have come to believe and know’. Something is deeply rooted inside Peter and the remaining disciples. They did not make a quick, ill thought through decision. It sounds like there had been a gradual, interior journey involving lots of thinking and pondering. Firstly they believed and then they began to know who Jesus was.
John’s gospel has a different feel to Matthew, Mark and Luke. In these first three, known as Synoptic Gospels, the big phrase is ‘Kingdom of God and Heaven’. In John it is ‘Eternal Life’.
We have already come across ‘eternal life’ in Jesus’ meeting with Nicodemus and with its partner phrase ‘believe’.
‘For God so loved the world that he gave his Son so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life’
I remember when I first started trying to find Jesus it was the ‘coffee-like smell of the words eternal life’ that drew me. I had already discovered that life was not as good as it could be, more than that, death struck me as a really bad idea, something to be avoided at all costs. Then I came across this picture of eternal life in John’s gospel. At first it struck me in a fairly one dimensional way as everlasting life, life after dying, life that went on forever, not as something that was wrapped up by death and then buried like so much fish and chip paper. Later on as I began to explore, learn and to follow Jesus I discovered other dimensions to ‘eternal life’. That it has a quality, an experience in the here and now as well as in the future. It is not just life after death but a whole new way of living before death. That the person living eternally is more alive in the present moment than anyone else.
This is a little word chain that runs through the early parts of this story. There is a missing link in my chain; it is the word ‘believe’. It is believing which opens the way to eternal life. Most of the people I meet are quick to tell me how they ‘believe in God’. What they mean is that they believe he exists. True belief is far more than this, it means that we believe in him as a personal being not just an idea. It means that we are drawn closer, following him, basing our life on him.
In John 6 we see three different types of belief/response to Jesus. There are those who clearly do not believe. They believe he exists, but they don’t believe in him as a person to be followed, trusted and accepted. Then there are those who stop believing in him, who ‘no longer went about with him’. Finally there are those who are so drawn to him, to his words, to who he is, that they cannot not go on believing. They are the disciples.
They believe in him, because he first believed in them.
‘You were my strength when I was weak,
You were my voice when I couldn’t speak,
You were my eyes when I couldn’t see,
You saw the best there was in me.
Lifted me up when I couldn’t reach,
You gave me faith ‘cause you believed,
I’m everything I am,
Because you loved me.’
You are the giver of eternal life,
You give it today and tomorrow.
So help me to so believe in you that I might live in you,
Remain with you,
This and everyday,