The words of eternal life

By

3 Oct 2018

Open pages of bible isolated on white background

At the end of the ‘Bread of Life’ discourse in John’s Gospel (John 6:66-69), many of Jesus’ disciples turn their backs on Jesus. We read that they ‘no longer went about with him.’

Jesus asks the Twelve, with some sadness: ‘Do you also wish to go away?’

Simon Peter answers with a stunning response: ‘Lord, to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life.’

Jesus’ question, and Simon Peter’s response, remind me to keep my eyes on Jesus. In his gaze will I know my deepest identity. In his presence will I find peace. In his words will I receive abundant life.

Later in John’s Gospel, the evangelist relates a time when Simon Peter does not quite have the same clarity of vision. By a charcoal fire, in a time of turbulence and betrayal, he seeks to warm himself alongside some slaves and the police (John 18:18). A woman guarding the gate, the group beside the fire, and then an individual slave each ask Simon Peter whether he is one of Jesus’ disciples. He denies it repeatedly.

‘Do you also wish to go away?’ At this point Simon Peter’s answer was ‘Yes’. Cold, he thought he could receive warmth only from flames. Vulnerable, he tried to blend in with the onlookers. Despairing, he denied his own deepest identity.

After the resurrection, at a second charcoal fire (John 21:9), Jesus is cooking with some bread and fish. It is a Eucharistic moment of abundance as the disciples bring some of the fish they have just caught. Jesus invites the disciples to ‘Come and have breakfast.’ There is a sense of uplift and renewal in the presence of the resurrected Lord.

In an offer of reconciliation and friendship, Jesus asks Simon Peter the same question three times: ‘Simon son of John, do you love me?’ Each time he replies ‘Yes, Lord; you know that I love you’ (John 21:15-19). The final time he adds ‘Lord, you know everything!’

Jesus has the words of eternal life, and it is in responding to his repeated question that Simon Peter recovers his own primary identity as a disciple. He finds his voice again. This is Simon Peter’s experience of the resurrection: new hope in Jesus’ presence and new life in Jesus’ words.

For all that that lies ahead, Simon Peter receives a mission: ‘tend my sheep.’ In tending the sheep, Simon Peter will need to attend to Jesus’ words. ‘Do you also wish to go away?’

James O'Brien is a graduate teacher who works as an Editorial Assistant with Jesuit Communications.
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