Today’s Gospel reading concludes a series of selections from John’s Gospel in which Jesus claims to be the bread that gives lives. During the past weeks these claims were made:

I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.

I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats of this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.

I am the bread which came down from heaven... the one who eats this bread will live forever.

Very truly, I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you.

In these statements Jesus is claiming to be the source of life. He claims to be divine, the one sent by God to give life to the world. The Jews found it difficult to accept Jesus’ teaching and dismissed his claims.  How can this man who is the son of Joseph and Mary say that he is the bread that came down from heaven? How can he give us his flesh to eat? One can hear the charge of cannibalism. Interestingly, in today’s Gospel he suffers further rejection but this time from his own disciples. Jesus said, "I am the bread which came down from heaven... the one who eats this bread will live forever." When many of his disciples heard this, they said, "This teaching is difficult; who can accept it?"

Jesus’ assertion that he was the bread of life was a challenge to the Jews and his disciples to accept him as God’s Son. It was a test of their faith to believe in him and to enter into a relationship with him; a relationship to be cemented by eating his body and drinking his blood. Both the Jews and some of his disciples found this teaching too hard and they left him. The Gospel of Jesus is always a challenge to us to change our way of living, to change our way of thinking, to truly believe in him and to accept him as the one who gives eternal life. The Gospel always demands of us to do something or to believe something that is new and appears to be difficult.

Throughout the Gospel we come face to face with many challenges: love your enemies; forgive the people who do you wrong; bless those who persecute you; if your enemy asks you to walk one mile walk two; if someone slaps you on your right cheek give them your left also, if your enemy is thirsty give him water, if he is hungry give him food.

The rich man who seeks to be a disciple is challenged to sell his property and give the proceeds to the poor. The man who wants to follow Jesus but asks to be excused so that he can bury is father is challenged to let the dead bury the dead. The woman caught in adultery is challenged to go and sin no more. We are challenged to be loving and forgiving like the father in the story of the two sons. We are challenged to be become like the Good Samaritan. The Gospel challenges us to work for justice, to be honest and true, to be righteous and holy in our lives.

Many of the persons who displayed a willingness to be Christ’s disciples often turned back on realising the demands of discipleship. Christianity is not an easy enterprise as some would want us to believe; it is difficult to be a true Christian because of what we are required to do and to live. But if we are really desirous of being a Christian the Holy Spirit will give us the strength to accept the challenges and submit to God’s will. We will not walk away as the Jews and some of the disciples did. In response to Jesus’ teaching in today’s Gospel some of the disciples said “this teaching is too hard” and gave up. Do we find the Gospel challenges too difficult?

Today’s readings present challenges to their audiences. Joshua asks his people to make a choice: “choose this day whom you will serve.” The writer of Ephesians challenges wives to be subject to their husbands and he also challenges husbands to love their wives as Christ loves the Church. The Gospels asks us to believe that Jesus is the bread of life.  The three readings draw our attention to the different kinds of challenges we meet in our spiritual and material lives.

Life has its challenges which put our faith to the test in the same way the faith of the Jews and disciples was tested to trust God and believe that Jesus is able to give life. There are the challenges of sickness, living with chronic diseases like heart disease, cancer, stroke, diabetes, and arthritis for which there is no cure, at times this challenge is a great test to the human will, death of family members and loved ones, financial problems, broken relationships, broken marriages, living with or working with difficult people, the list can be unending. Challenges also come in the decisions we have to make from time to time.  The Gospel asks us “how do we respond to our daily challenges?” Do we say they are too hard and walk away, or do we do identify with Peter and recognise that Christ gives life? "Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life; and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God."

Everyone of us present has our challenges; I will be bold and say there is no person living who does not have challenges. How we cope with them is determined by our faith in God. Without faith we say like the disciples in today’s Gospel ’it is too difficult’ and walk away. With faith we express confidence in God’s almighty power and stay the course, we do not cut and run. We are not to allow the challenges to mange us; we are to manage the challenges. But this we can only do if our faith is in God. Christ is the One who is able to help us meet the challenges we encounter in our lives.

Challenges are an inevitable part of life. What is life without them? They provide opportunities for spiritual growth and strength. They help us to take control of our lives and manage them. Challenges can make us stronger persons and build our character as we live through them and find solutions to the issues and questions they raised. But we can only grow if we do not walk away from them. It all depends what we want to make out of the challenge.

Very often we fail when challenges come because our human nature tells us to walk by sight and not by faith. But Christians walk by faith and not by sight. Because of this we are always confident and hopeful. Our Lord’s question, "Do you also wish to go away?" is not addressed to us. Christians do not go away; we stay and in God’s name overcome the challenges.

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