“When many of his disciples heard it, they said, ‘This is a hard saying; who can listen to it?'” – John 6:60 (ESV)
John chapter 6 gives us one of the great “I am” statements of Jesus in this gospel – “I am the bread of life” (v. 35). It is during this section that the disciples are listening to Jesus describe what that all means. Many are troubled by what He is saying here and realize that being a disciple of Jesus demands a lot more from them then they perhaps had bargained for. Jesus gave His disciples another discourse on this in Luke’s gospel – “For which of you, desiring to build a tower, does not first sit down and count the cost, whether he has enough to complete it?” (14:28). We start to see some disciples drift away at this point in John’s gospel – in verse 66, John tells us, “After this many of his disciples turned back and no longer walked with him.” I think there is a tendency (on my part anyway) to look at these wayward disciples as cowardly at this point. I feel myself judging them and wondering how they could wander away and do such a thing.
But doesn’t this happen in more subtle ways in our own lives ? In Luke 6, Jesus gives us a string of commands that we don’t often find easy to swallow. What if we don’t get the proper thanks for a job well done or feel slighted by a friend’s lack of generosity ? Jesus tells us in Luke 6:35 to “lend, expecting nothing in return”. And as hard as it can be for us to believe at times, not everyone likes us 🙂 Isn’t easier just to write those folks off and focus more on our own personal fan clubs ? “But I say to you who hear, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you.” (Luke 6:27-28). At some point, the whole counsel of God becomes something less than what it should be. The easier commands ? Sure, we can follow those, no problem. But these statements in Luke 6 ? After letting these sink in for a while, we can hear the voice inside our head saying the very same words we heard from the disciples – “This is a hard saying; who can listen to it ?”
The wayward disciples in John 6 probably would have sympathized with Thomas Jefferson – the President once created a Bible of his own that was a cut-and-paste from the Gospels, to one that was more suitable to his liking. We need to be careful we don’t do the same. The hard sayings, the “easy” sayings – all of these are commands from our Lord.
We’d do well to listen closely.