On hearing [what Jesus said about eating his body and drinking his blood], many of his disciples said, “This is a hard teaching. Who can accept it?”
Aware that his disciples were grumbling about this, Jesus said to them, “Does this offend you? Then what if you see the Son of Man ascend to where he was before! The Spirit gives life; the flesh counts for nothing. The words I have spoken to you—they are full of the Spirit and life. Yet there are some of you who do not believe.” For Jesus had known from the beginning which of them did not believe and who would betray him. He went on to say, “This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless the Father has enabled them.”
From this time many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him.
After delivering one of his most profound teachings in the Bread of Life discourse, many of his disciples respond with discomfort and disbelief: "This is a hard teaching. Who can accept it?" (John 6:60). This is not a sentiment we are unfamiliar with. Throughout our faith journey, we often encounter teachings or truths that challenge our preconceived notions, cultural values, or personal desires. The discomfort of the disciples is a mirror reflecting our own struggles with challenging teachings.
Jesus, aware of their discontented murmuring, confronts them. "Does this offend you?" he asks (John 6:61). Instead of simplifying his message, he gives them even more to ponder. He says, "What if you see the Son of Man ascend to where he was before! The Spirit gives life; the flesh counts for nothing." It's as if he's saying, "If this teaching is hard, there are harder things to come, and not just teachings!"
There was a mass exodus as many of his disciples walked away from Jesus, presumably never to return. One can only imagine how Jesus would have felt at this moment. The people he had come to save were turning their backs on him. But Jesus doesn't chase after them, trying to persuade them with more palatable teachings or offer them more miracles as proof. Why?
Firstly, it is because Jesus respects human free will. One of the profound truths of Christianity is the respect God has for human freedom. Love that is compelled is not love at all. Jesus invites; he doesn't impose.
Secondly, Jesus was not interested in superficial followers. He was looking for genuine disciples. If disciples were to leave over this teaching, it revealed the depth (or lack thereof) of their commitment. Jesus was laying the foundation for a movement that would face persecution, challenges, and trials. If they couldn't accept his teachings now, how would they stand firm in tougher times?
Finally, Jesus' mission was not about numbers but about depth. He was more interested in the transformation of hearts than in the count of heads. This is evident in his intensive investment in the Twelve, even though he spoke to thousands. He knew that genuine transformation in a few would lead to the transformation of many.
This passage invites us to reflect on our own commitment to Christ. In the face of challenging teachings, will we choose to walk away? Something to think about today.
God bless you.