The context sets the stage. Jesus has just raised the bar of salvation by insisting that "unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you" (Jn 6:53). As a result, "many of his disciples" say, "'This teaching is difficult; who can accept it?'" (Jn 6:60). Jesus' response doesn't seem to help matters, perhaps especially when he says that no one comes to him apart from the will of the Father. That leads to apostasy: "Because of this many of his disciples turned back and no longer went about with him" (Jn 6:66).
Then comes the Johannine version of Peter's 'good confession':
So Jesus asked the twelve, 'Do you also wish to go away?'
Simon Peter answered him, 'Lord, to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life' (Jn 6:67-68)
To whom can we go for the words of eternal life? Different people and different religious traditions answer that question (or analogous questions) in very different ways. The answers are not all saying the same thing. Even during my years of drifting away from the faith of the Church, I somehow understood that. And this passage continued to resonate for me even as I struggled with the claims upon my life and loyalties made by Jesus.
Today's meditation on John 6:60-71 from Forward Day by Day offers important points and questions for consideration:
Sometimes the question comes up, "If you weren't a Christian, what would you be? Would you be a Jew? A Buddhist? A Muslim? Something else?"
We follow him because we are convinced he has the words of eternal life. Peter says here that we believe and know-and if we have faith and are certain that Jesus is the Son of the living God and if we hold on tightly to his word, we shall not be moved.
In this passage, some of the disciples of Jesus turned back and stopped following him. They lost the vision of following. Some had followed because they ate the bread that Jesus gave them. Others wanted to see miracles. Yet others followed because they saw people gathering. It was easy for them to fall by the wayside because their motive for following Jesus was wrong.
What about your own motive? Can you say with Peter that you believe and that you are certain that Jesus is the Son of the living God and that he has the words of eternal life? We have nowhere else to go but to Jesus. He is the way, the truth, and the life.
My own journey has led me to a point of clarity about such questions. For me, if it's not the Jesus we meet in the pages of the New Testament, if it's not the Jesus we encounter in the preaching and teaching of the early Church Fathers and Mothers, if it's not the Jesus of the historic creeds, if it's not the Jesus of mainstream Christian thought and practice down through the centuries, if it's not the Jesus I encounter in the liturgies of The Book of Common Prayer and in the sacrament of Holy Eucharist ... then there really is nowhere else to go.
If it's not Jesus, then all bets are off.
If it's not Jesus, then it's Nietzsche's der Wille zur Macht.