When many of his disciples heard it, they said, “This teaching is difficult; who can accept it?” But Jesus, being aware that his disciples were complaining about it, said to them, “Does this offend you? Then what if you were to see the Son of Man ascending to where he was before? It is the spirit that gives life; the flesh is useless. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life. But among you there are some who do not believe.” For Jesus knew from the first who were the ones that did not believe, and who was the one that would betray him. And he said, “For this reason I have told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted by the Father.” Because of this many of his disciples turned back and no longer went about with him. 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. We have come to believe and know that you are the Holy One of God.”
It is a sad fact that most Christians have never read the Bible even once cover to cover. In fact, many have not read even one chapter, beginning to end. So their impression of God and Jesus is only what they have picked up from miscellaneous sources, and I suspect that Dan Brown might often be more of an influence than the catechism teacher. And this impression has turned Jesus into a caricature, so unreal he is like something out of a comic book.
But it is a happy fact that an increasing number of Christians are starting to read the Bible these days, and I hope that these reflections are contributing towards that, because there is nothing as life changing as the Scriptural word of God. However, when one begins to read the Bible, they are shocked by the Jesus they discover because he is very different from the cardboard cut out they had imagined him to be all these years. He is real and he is tough. He doesn’t mince words. He says it like it is, and often what he says is brutal.
Let me give you a few examples. These are verses we have looked at over the past few days. ”Do you think I have come to give peace on earth? No, I tell you, but rather division" (Luke 12:51). “You lack one thing: go, sell what you have, and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me” (Mark 10:21). “Whoever divorces his wife and marries another, commits adultery against her; and if she divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery” (Mark 10:11-12).
And, of course, the verse that inspired his disciples to leave him as we read in today’s passage. “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink his blood, you have no life in you" (John 6:53). They couldn’t accept this and walked away. I wonder how Jesus felt. I can relate. I know many of you feel blessed by these reflections, but I also know they are upsetting several. I have lost a few friends because of the things I have said here, but all I am doing is relaying what Jesus said. I don’t put my spin to anything.
Now if you come across these hard teachings, you could walk away like the disciples did. But it is my hope and prayer that you don’t. And never will. It would help to remember that this same Jesus, who sometimes comes across as harsh, suffered and died for us because he wanted us to have new life. And his tough teachings are aimed at making this new life an abundant life. His apostles understood that because when he asked them if they were going to leave too, Peter answered: Master, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.
May our response be the same.