Throughout this chapter's discussion about the bread which gives life, Jesus' words have been greeted with misunderstanding, confusion, and objection from the crowd. In verse sixty we hear about the reaction from the "disciples" (in John not to be equated with "the twelve"; see verse 67). We may expect better things from them. After all, they were the ones who sat together with Jesus at the beginning of this text, who followed Jesus' instructions in gathering up the leftovers of the bread and fish, and who were rescued from the storm at sea by Jesus.
Thus we may be stunned when we hear that the disciples are now the ones who are bothered by what Jesus has said. We may have been tempted to simply write off the rest of the crowd as stubborn, but the reference to "the disciples" sounds uncomfortably close to home. In verse sixty-one, the disciples begin to grumble (NRSV "complain"), just as "the Jews" did in verse forty-one. Here, the problem seems not so much that the disciples have difficulty understanding what Jesus is saying; they understand quite well, but cannot believe and follow what Jesus has said. How often do we find the same to be true about ourselves?
Yet God is working life in the midst of apparent failure and rejection. The church is still called to see that it is in such places that the Word of Life is doing its work around us, among us, and within us. The presence of Peter the denier, and even of Judas the betrayer, at the end of this text is a striking note of hope. Our natural inclination is to turn and leave, to avoid the difficult call, and above all, to avoid the cross. Yet the Word, the Spirit, and the Father continue to call, enlighten, and draw us to life.
Peter's response to Jesus is not a word of despair or a statement that they will have to settle for Jesus because there is nothing else. Peter and the others who remain have been given the gift of knowing that Jesus is the one who can give genuine life. Here, as elsewhere in this chapter, the paradox remains: faith only comes as the Father draws us, and yet Peter and the others (and we too) are asked for our response. Peter and the other twelve "choose" to remain, and yet the greater and prior reality is that they have been chosen (verse seventy). The mystery of faith and unbelief is not answered by supposed solutions to the paradox, but by grateful confession that the Father has indeed drawn us to faith in Jesus, and thus to eternal life.