John 6:60-66 read as follows:
“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.” (NRSV)
The context of this is that Jesus has just taught his disciples about him being the Bread of Life and that we must eat his flesh in order to have life. Sounds like cannibalism doesn’t it? The disciples who raised the question if they can accept it probably thought the same thing.
Here’s the thing – I think this passage of Scripture has as much relevance today as it did when it was written. As a society we seem to struggle with many of Jesus’ teachings – they are difficult, who can accept them?
In Luke 6:27-36, Jesus offers the following teaching:
“‘But I say to you that listen, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. If anyone strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also; and from anyone who takes away your coat do not withhold even your shirt. Give to everyone who begs from you; and if anyone takes away your goods, do not ask for them again. Do to others as you would have them do to you.
‘If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. If you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. If you lend to those from whom you hope to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, to receive as much again. But love your enemies, do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return. Your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High; for he is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.” (NRSV)
Jesus tells us to love our enemies. But Jesus, this teaching is difficult, who can accept it?
In Matthew 25:35, Jesus says: “for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me,” (NRSV).
This is part of a larger parable on how the nations will be judged. We are told that how we treat the least is how we actually treat Jesus. In essence, how we treat the least is actually a representation of what we think about God since the least are made in God’s image.
Jesus tells us to welcome the stranger. But Jesus, this teaching is difficult, who can accept it?
In Luke 10:25-27, we hear a famous parable:
“Just then a lawyer stood up to test Jesus. ‘Teacher,’ he said, ‘what must I do to inherit eternal life?’ He said to him, ‘What is written in the law? What do you read there?’ He answered, ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbour as yourself.’ And he said to him, ‘You have given the right answer; do this, and you will live.’
But wanting to justify himself, he asked Jesus, ‘And who is my neighbour?’ Jesus replied, ‘A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell into the hands of robbers, who stripped him, beat him, and went away, leaving him half dead. Now by chance a priest was going down that road; and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan while travelling came near him; and when he saw him, he was moved with pity. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, having poured oil and wine on them. Then he put him on his own animal, brought him to an inn, and took care of him. The next day he took out two denarii, gave them to the innkeeper, and said, “Take care of him; and when I come back, I will repay you whatever more you spend.” Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbour to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?’ He said, ‘The one who showed him mercy.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Go and do likewise.’” (NRSV).
This parable is often misunderstood with most people thinking that it about being nice to someone who is hurt on the side of the road. It’s much more radical than that. The parable is given in response to the lawyer trying to define who it is acceptable to not treat like a neighbor. Jesus uses the Samaritan as the hero in the story because it is the exact type of person the lawyer would never have defined as a neighbor. The fact that he can’t answer Jesus’ question at the end by saying the Samaritan, and instead gives a technically correct answer that averts saying the word, shows this. To get a good feel for what this parable would sound like today in contemporary America, substitute in Central American immigrant for Samaritan.
Jesus tells us that neighbors are more than those that look, sound, or believe like us – and are not all from our own country. But Jesus, this teaching is difficult, who can accept it?
In Luke 9:23 (as well as Matthew 10:38, Mark 8:34, and Luke 14:27), Jesus says the following:
“Then he said to them all, ‘If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me.” (NRSV).
Jesus doesn’t call us to comfort, but rather to death itself – daily. It is only in death that we can experience resurrection. It is only in death that we let go of our egos, our attitudes, our strongly held beliefs, our earthly loyalties and allegiances, our idols, our desires, etc. In death we are released from it all, and are made anew – resurrected. We are called to die daily to self. Only then can we truly be followers of Jesus.
Jesus tells us to die daily to ourselves. But Jesus, this teaching is difficult, who can accept it?
The statement and question of the disciples can be applied to most of what Jesus said and taught leaving us with nothing. Will we be like these disciples who made these statements and then turned back and no longer went with him? Or will we be like Peter who makes this statement: “‘Lord, to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life.” (John 6:68, NRSV).
Is following Jesus just too difficult to actually do? Do we have excuses for why we cannot accept what Jesus says? Why do we want to claim to be a follower of Jesus if we believe it is just too difficult?
Who can accept what Jesus is teaching and commanding us to do? You and I can. Together. With Jesus.