This is a hard teaching, who can accept it. For the last three weeks Jesus has taken great pains to reiterate a central teaching. He is the bread of life, his body is real food, his blood real drink. Unless you eat his body and drink his blood, you have no life within you. This is a hard teaching: how can this man give us his food to eat? We believe and profess that here in the Holy Eucharist these words come true. That Jesus gives us his body and blood as true food and drink and that through this blessed sacrament we have life and light. But this is certainly a hard teaching, who can accept it?
There are many hard teachings in our faith. It can be quite hard sometimes to believe that God is our loving father, when we live in a world broken by sin, violence, hunger, and war. It is not easy to believe that the eternal Word of the Father took flesh and was born of the Virgin Mary. It is also hard to believe that this Jesus who suffered death by crucifixion rose after three days. It is hard to believe that he sent the Spirit into the world. It is hard to believe that the Church is his body on earth, led by the successor of St. Peter. And there are a great many teachings in the moral life that are difficult to believe, many hard teachings, especially those about the gift of human sexuality and human life. Even our second reading gives us a hard teaching: wives be submissive to your husbands, husbands love your wives as Christ loved the Church. The mutual submission of spouses to each other is a hard teaching, who can accept it?
I am sure that every one of us has some teaching in mind right now. Each one of us probably has some aspect, some doctrine of the faith that can be especially difficult. How do we react? How do we respond? Do we embrace and accept this teaching, difficult as it might be, or do we reject it? Do we place ourselves as mediators of truth? If it is hard to accept, maybe it is easier just to reject it. Or, what happens when we are backed into a corner because of a hard teaching? Do we look for a way out? How many times has someone challenged you on one of these hard teachings? Maybe somebody has asked you: how can the church really teach that contraception is wrong? What is our response? It is perfectly natural to have difficulties with the hard teachings of the faith. We might struggle with some of these teachings, we might meet others who struggle. But, look at how Jesus responds. He doesn't soften his stance, he doesn't find some nuance, he just looks at Peter and says: will you leave me too?
Why doesn't Jesus back down, why not nuance his teaching so that people wouldn't leave? Why can't the church change her teachings on morality, sexuality, etc. The words of St. Peter are key here: Lord where would we go, you have the words of eternal life. We believe you are the son of God. Jesus cannot back down, the Church cannot nuance the truth, because we do not believe in teachings or statements. Our faith is not based on a book, it is not based on human rationality, our faith is not simply a great idea. Our faith is in Jesus. We cannot have a relationship with teachings, rather we have a relationship with Christ. Once we have that relationship, then the teachings make sense, the teachings hold together. It never means that these hard teachings become easy to believe, it only means that once we have met Christ there is nowhere else to go. If there are hard teachings that we find difficult to accept, if we are challenged by others who find them hard to accept, the answer must be found in looking to Christ. Only in Jesus do these hard teachings make sense. We will have challenges and struggles in our faith but we face them just like St Peter: we turn to Christ and say: Lord where else would we go?