Many of his disciples who heard this said, “This message is harsh. Who can hear it?”
Jesus knew that the disciples were grumbling about this and he said to them, “Does this offend you? What if you were to see the Human One going up where he was before? The Spirit is the one who gives life and the flesh doesn’t help at all. The words I have spoken to you are spirit and life. Yet some of you don’t believe.” Jesus knew from the beginning who wouldn’t believe and the one who would betray him. He said, “For this reason I said to you that none can come to me unless the Father enables them to do so.” At this, many of his disciples turned away and no longer accompanied him.
Jesus asked the Twelve, “Do you also want to leave?”
Simon Peter answered, “Lord, where would we go? You have the words of [aiōniou] life. We believe and know that you are God’s holy one.”
Jesus replied, “Didn’t I choose you twelve? Yet one of you is a devil.” He was speaking of Judas, Simon Iscariot’s son, for he, one of the Twelve, was going to betray him.
What’s the harsh message of Jesus? Some say it’s the part that G_d only leads certain people to Jesus. Others say it’s that the followers of Jesus must consume his flesh and blood. And still others say it’s only through Jesus that one finds life. I think it could be our misunderstanding of all three.
Like these snippets of one long story have shown us, the people were misunderstanding what Jesus was doing and saying. I think we fall into that same category.
For example, when Jesus said that people must eat his flesh and drink his blood, some people think Jesus is talking about his physical body. That’s why there’s the doctrine of Transubstantiation - the bread and wine are transformed into Christ’s literal body and blood. I’ve read for years that people think Jesus is speaking about his literal body. And some think that, even if he was talking symbolically, it’s still rather gross. One article even posits a theory that the reason the body of Jesus disappeared after his death was because his followers literally ate him! Needless to day, the idea of eating Jesus is a “harsh saying.”
Likewise, some people have taken from Jesus words that G_d chooses only some people to come to him. This, in turn, means that the majority of people don’t come to Christ. And the purpose of coming to Christ is that one get’s “eternal life.” Therefore, everyone else doesn’t get “eternal life.” And if they don’t get “eternal life” then they must get “eternal death.” The idea that only some people can come to Christ and find life only in him is a “harsh saying.”
As we’ve been seeing during these reflections though, Jesus often uses poetic, mystical images when he talks about what he’s doing. He sometimes uses actual historical events and turns them and use them as pictures of his own ministry. As we’ve seen from this sixth chapter of John’s telling of the story, Jesus is doing the same thing with the Exodus story - the framing story of the Jews.
If we take that story, and watch what Jesus is doing and listen to what he’s saying, we come up with something like this:
Moses ⇢ Jesus
YHWH ⇢ Jesus
Mana ⇢ Jesus
Miracles ⇢ Jesus
Passover ⇢ Jesus
In other words, Jesus is saying that the images of the Exodus point to a deeper meaning. That the images, characters, and symbols from that story point to Jesus and the things that he was doing. That they all pointed to Jesus and his ministry. That this was the true Exodus.
That’s the harsh message. The idea that they were wanting a new exodus just like the first but weren’t going to get it - that’s a harsh message. The idea that they were wanting G_d to wipe out the pagan, non-human Romans (just like the Egyptians), but that wasn’t going to happen - that’s a harsh message. The idea that some of the Romans might actually be “saved” while the Jews found themselves “judged” - that’s a harsh message.
I’m not the only one who thinks this. St. Paul wrote:
I don’t want you to forget, dear brothers and sisters, about our ancestors in the wilderness long ago. All of them were guided by a cloud that moved ahead of them, and all of them walked through the sea on dry ground. In the cloud and in the sea, all of them were baptized as followers of Moses. All of them ate the same spiritual food, and all of them drank the same spiritual water. For they drank from the spiritual rock that traveled with them, and that rock was Christ. Yet God was not pleased with most of them, and their bodies were scattered in the wilderness....These things happened to them as examples for us. They were written down to warn us who live at the end of the age.
It’s all of that and more which pushes most of the followers away. And, I think, if we’re honest, some of that would push us away, too.
For instance, if we thought that some of “those people” were actually going to be “saved,” and some of “us” judged - that would be a harsh message. And you know what? I think that is exactly what Jesus says. Jesus said that the greatest faith he found in all of Israel came from a pagan Roman! How many of us would think, even for a moment, that “those people” might actually have a better grasp of G_d and a deeper trust in G_d than “we” do? Probably not very many of us.
But that’s what Jesus came to show us. It doesn’t matter what wisdom tradition one belongs to (or even if one belongs to a wisdom tradition). G_d speaks to others and through others just as G_d speak to and through us. The whole story of Jesus, to me, points to a greater vision of what G_d is doing in the world. And, sometimes, it doesn’t work out the way we think it should.
And that’s a harsh message.
In the Love of the Three in One,
Br. Jack+, LC