Gospel Lectio Divina for the 21st Sunday in Ordinary Time

Gospel Lectio Divina for the 21st Sunday in Ordinary Time

By David Kilby


Jn 6:60-69

Many of Jesus’ disciples who were listening said, “This saying is hard; who can accept it?” Since Jesus knew that his disciples were murmuring about this, he said to them, “Does this shock you? What if you were to see the Son of Man ascending to where he was before? It is the spirit that gives life, while the flesh is of no avail. The words I have spoken to you are Spirit and life. But there are some of you who do not believe.” Jesus knew from the beginning the ones who would not believe and the one who would betray him. And he said, “For this reason I have told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted him by my Father.” As a result of this, many of his disciples returned to their former way of life and no longer accompanied him. Jesus then said to the Twelve, “Do you also want to leave?” Simon Peter answered him, “Master, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and are convinced that you are the Holy One of God.”


“This saying is hard; who can accept it?”

This Gospel is preached together with Ephesians 5:21-32, which is also a hard saying. St. Paul says “Be subordinate to one another out of reverence for Christ. Wives should be subordinate to their husbands.” This Gospel and Ephesians 5 are preached together because the Church knows how many people turn away after hearing St. Paul’s words, just as many disciples turned away after hearing Christ’s words about his body. But the parallel is clear. Husbands are called to give up their bodies for their wives by sacrifice, just as Christ is giving his body to us--his Church. A husband may fail to live up to his role, putting the wife in a very difficult situation. In fact, one can argue that if the husband is not following Christ, there is no point in the wife being subordinate to the husband because the proper relationship St. Paul and Christ are talking about is broken. What Christ is saying is indeed hard, and it’s no wonder many walked away. What St. Paul is saying is also hard for us to understand in our culture, where we have forgotten--for the most part--the natural structure of the family and the supernatural structure of the Church. The former is designed to reflect the latter. Christ’s teaching about his body, the Eucharist, is supposed to guide us in how to run our families. “Love your wives as your own body,” St. Paul says, because Christ loves the Church as his own body. If the Church is not conforming to his will though, if Catholics are not subordinate to Christ who is the head of the Church, there is a serious disconnect that needs to be addressed. “The spirit is willing but the flesh is weak,” Christ says (Matthew 26:41). In the same way, God’s will is often not lived out through his body, the Church. When this happens, God’s design for the Church falls apart. Yet, thanks to the faithful few who keep God’s commandments and follow his teachings, the Church will always live on. God has to work with our free will, and--indeed--when our free will is challenged to accept a teaching that seems to limit that free will, it is a hard saying. It is, nevertheless, still God saying it.

“Master, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.”

This may just be my favorite verse in the Bible. The Gospel says that after Jesus gave them the hard saying about his body being the bread of life, many of his followers left Jesus and returned to their former way of life. Peter and the disciples stayed. They stayed because they knew there was nothing else more fulfilling out there in the world than following Jesus. They could travel the world, obtain all its riches and fame, and still end up empty because the world does not offer the words of eternal life. Jesus does. 

“We have come to believe and are convinced that you are the Holy One of God.”

Peter doesn’t always do and say the right thing, but a few times he gets it just right. And that’s why Christ made him the first pope. He got it right when it mattered most. When Jesus asked him “Who do you say that I am,” he answered, “You are the Christ.” When he denied Jesus three times, afterward he repented. When the crowds left after the Bread of Life Discourse, he stood by Christ, represented the apostles and stayed, declaring Jesus to be the Holy One of God. In the first reading, Joshua tells the people of Israel to go worship whomever they please but, “As for me and my household, we will serve the LORD.” In a similar way, Peter says, basically, everyone else can go if they’d like. But as for me and the apostles, we will follow Jesus. But the people of Israel, after hearing Joshua’s challenge, did choose to follow the Lord. When Jesus calls them to a deeper relationship with God though, they turn away. This is often the story in my own life. I am comfortable with a certain level of devotion, like going to Mass and praying the Rosary. But when the Lord calls me to something deeper, I turn away. What steps do I need to take to obtain the kind of faith Peter and the apostles display here in this passage? It’s the kind of faith that is willing to forsake all else for the sake of following Jesus Christ. What do I need to do to take my faith to the next level like that?


Lord Jesus,

Where else can I go to receive the words of eternal life? Nowhere. I may think the city of man contains all that I’m looking for, but from experience I’ve discovered that it always falls short. When I turn to you instead though, you always satisfy. You satisfy not only by giving me what my heart desires most, but also by giving me intriguing glimpses of the wonders of your kingdom. I may be selfish in asking this, but please continue to show me the glory that awaits us in the everlasting life you offer. This is what gives me the faith and hope to live on following you, loving others, and sharing with them the Spirit and life you share with me. In Jesus, name, Amen. 


Sometimes when we listen, God says something that is hard to accept. In those moments, we can turn from him or stay as Peter and the apostles did. When we are not certain if a hard saying truly is the voice of God in our lives, then is a good time to be silent and listen. Is it God speaking to our hearts, or is it the world, the flesh and the devil that is trying to compel us. God is truth. He does not need popular opinion or influential people to convince us of that truth. He uses his own Spirit and life to speak to us. He uses his word, and if his Spirit is alive within us he speaks directly to our hearts and our conscience. Listen to him there and you will hear him speak. 


Kilby is a freelance writer from New Jersey and managing editor of Catholic World Report.