By Rachel Hinz
“Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.” Peter says this to Jesus after hearing some really difficult stuff. Confusing, hard stuff. The Bible itself documents what many people thought about said stuff: “This is hard stuff. Who can accept it?” (Okay, the actual words were “hard teaching,” but you get it.)
What Peter heard was so difficult, in fact, that a lot of people who had (literally) been following Jesus decided to call it quits. They turned around and stopped following him. That mass exodus probably lingered in the minds of those who stayed, because Jesus even asks the Twelve if they want to leave, too. That’s when Peter comes out with: “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life” (John 6:68).
These words aren’t foreign to me because, growing up at my church, we sang them right before the Gospel reading almost every week. Peter’s words, however, were always preceded by an “Alleluia!” Two more “Alleluias” were tacked on at the end, for good measure. Not exactly a direct quote from Peter, but it does sound a bit more upbeat, doesn’t it? Getting ready to hear the Gospel, which is “good news,” made the extra Alleluias seem very fitting.
But Peter’s remark didn’t come into my mind after hearing any good news. I also wasn’t in a church service when I remembered those words. On the contrary, I received horrible news: a sweet new friend has cancer, and not an encouraging prognosis. How can that be? Her children play with my kids…
The hardest news. How can anyone accept that?
I was walking up my stairs to start the kids’ bedtime routine, still distracted by the sudden news, when Peter’s words came to mind. With the “Alleluias,” I might add. Which didn’t sit right. Why would I think of that?
Now, I’m not a theologian, and I certainly don’t want to misrepresent Peter, but I just wonder how he would have said those words to Jesus at the time. Certainly, it ends with a bold confession of faith; Peter follows up with: “We believe and know that you are the Holy One of God” (John 6:69).
But before that confident statement, when Peter says, “Lord, to whom shall we go?” I almost wonder if I could substitute a flippant laugh: “Lord, where can I even go from here?” Or a frustrated: “What other choice do I have?!” Or maybe just a confused and honestly searching hope: “Lord, what can I even do? … You have the words of eternal life…”
For much of my life, Peter and his bold confessions of faith (here and elsewhere) always came across so sure and confident to me. They are almost too easy to say; even easier to sing. But the longer I live, and the more I try to follow Jesus, the harder everything seems to get. Treasured family members get cancer. Relationships between parents and adult children become strained. People of faith show judgment after constantly speaking of “grace.”
“Lord, what can I even do? This is hard stuff … how can I accept it?”
Perhaps Peter’s boldness isn’t in his confidence, but in sharing his honest and raw thoughts with Jesus. At the height of confusion and without complete understanding, Peter is still content in the peace he knows he has with Jesus. Where else am I supposed to go?
Even Peter’s follow-up words aren’t his own good idea or best guess. “You have the words of eternal life…” That’s actually a reiteration of what Jesus had just said in response to their initial confusion. A few verses before “Peter’s” confession, Jesus says:
“It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh is no help at all. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life… This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted him by the Father.”
John 6:63, 65 (ESV)
If Peter was able to confess his desperate need in a time of desperation, it must have been the Spirit giving him the ability, right? And I can only credit the Spirit for bringing the thought to my mind, too. That is a peace that I cannot understand, but wow, am I thankful for it.
That just leaves us with those “Alleluias.” Like Peter, I’m okay not saying those right now. The timing works well, as churches enter the season of Lent, when “Alleluias” aren’t sung, and we lean into the suffering of Jesus for us. That’s a powerful place Jesus himself stayed, so I know he can understand me—even if I don’t understand the suffering my friend is walking through or the heaviness I carry.
I will cling to Jesus, knowing his Spirit is actually holding me.
Where else can I go?