THE HARD SAYINGS OF JESUS - WHY PEOPLE TURNED AWAY FROM HIM. (GOSPEL FOR 21ST. SUN OF ORD TIME)
On hearing it, 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? 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 are spirit and they are 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 him.” From this time many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him. “You do not want to leave too, do you?” Jesus asked the Twelve. Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We believe and know that you are the Holy One of God.”
What a day it had been! Just 24 hours before they saw five loaves of bread and two small fish turn into enough food to feed more than 5,000 people. It was a miracle of the highest order. They would not have believed it could happen if they hadn’t seen it with their own eyes. They held the bread. They ate the fish. Surely this was a man of God, perhaps, even, the long-awaited Christ.
But then this man disappeared. They had to go looking for Jesus, finding him on the other side of the Sea of Galilee. How in the world did he get there so fast? The word began to spread rapidly: ‘The disciples went by boat, but Jesus walked on the water. Wait, he did what? How is that even possible?’ But the 12 had seen it with their own eyes. Another miracle. Another proof that this man was special. Perhaps he would be the one to get rid of the Romans and restore the fortunes of Israel.
But then this prophet started to scold them, ‘I tell you the truth, you are looking for me, not because you saw miraculous signs but because you ate the loaves and had your fill.’ ‘You don’t want me to be your king or even your Messiah—you just want your stomachs to be filled!’ So he offered them food and drink once more. But it wasn’t loaves and fish. It wasn’t bread and wine. Rather it was flesh and blood. ‘My flesh is real food and my blood is real drink. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me, and I in him . . . This is the bread that came down from heaven.’
I bet you could just see it on their faces as their mood changed. I bet you could hear their minds twisting and turning as they tried to make sense of it all. Soon they got their mouths working again, enough to start grumbling to one another, ‘This is a hard teaching. Who can accept it?’ ‘What in the world are you talking about, Jesus? How do you expect us to believe something like that?’
Jesus knew what they were thinking, knew what they were muttering under their breath. So he asks them point blank, ‘Does this offend you?’ Literally he says, “Is this an obstacle to you? Does this cause you to stumble?” Then, another question, ‘What if you see the Son of Man ascend to where he was before!’ In other words, ‘Would you believe me if I ascended into heaven right now before your very eyes?’ Now Jesus is on a roll, ‘The Spirit gives life; the flesh counts for nothing.’ Don’t base your faith on what your brain thinks is reasonable. Only what the Spirit brings gives life. ‘The words I have spoken to you are spirit and they are life.’ ‘What you have just heard from me is from the Spirit. What you have just heard me say will give you life forever.’ But knowing what was in their hearts, Jesus hammers home his final thought, ‘Yet there are some of you who do not believe.‘
Jesus wasn’t going to give them what they wanted. They desired a battle-winning, bread-giving, disease-healing king. They just couldn’t believe what Jesus was telling them. They would not accept his words because it wasn’t what they wanted to hear. So, they packed up their stuff, turned their backs, and left.
It would be easy for us to now start pointing out all the different people in the world today that have walked away from Jesus’ teaching because it is too hard. It would be easy for us to get all riled up like we were at some political convention, denouncing all those who have stumbled over the words of Christ because they think that they know better. I could stand up here and rail against twisted idea of gay marriage, the atrocity of abortion and the immorality of websites like Ashley Madison. We could then leave here today feeling high and mighty, puffed up and proud that we have not abandoned the truth. It is true that all those things fly in the face of what the Holy One of God says is good, right, and pure. But if we were only to spend our time pointing out the faults of others, what good would it do for us?
The question that we must ask ourselves is this: Do we always accept that every word of Scripture is in fact the very Word of God? Are we always ready to listen to what the Holy One has to say?
The words of God we heard earlier are a good place to start. We were told to submit to one another. Do you find that hard to do? Do you stumble over the thought of subjecting your wishes and desires to someone else? Do you find it difficult to put others before yourself? Husbands you are told to love your wives as much as Jesus does, willing to sacrifice everything for the sake of your bride. Is this an attitude you embrace in humility, or one that you think you can do without much effort? Wives, you are told to submit to your husbands as to the Lord. You are to look to them as your head, your leader, the one whom you follow in life. Is this an attitude you embrace in humility, or one that you espouse only when it suits your mood? The words of Joshua still echo in our ears as well. Will you serve the gods of the nation around you, or will you serve the LORD? Do you accept the fact that nothing can come between you and your Lord? Do you acknowledge that anything that gets in the way is then a false god? Be it your team, your job, your family, your children, your fun, your friends, your sports, your sleep – if anything takes precedence over the Almighty, are you willing to cast it aside?
Do you see how easily and frequently we stumble over the words and wishes of our Lord? And think of just how foolish this is! What right do we have to think that we know more than the Trinity? By what authority does our opinion carry more weight than his? What in the world makes us think that we would be right and the Creator, wrong? It is the arrogance of our own ego that dares to try and take God and bring him down to our level. It is the greatest of all insults to ever consider that we would know better than him. And we do it, time and time again, walking away from his words to our own peril, to our own doom. For to reject his words is the same as rejecting him.
But please, don’t go anywhere. Don’t walk away now. Because Jesus does not want you to go. He bids you to stay, to listen. For his words, though challenging, do not bring death, but life.
This is what the disciples knew. This is what they relied upon. This is what caused Peter to speak such glorious words, ‘Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.’ These are the words of a humble man, of one who recognizes his own weaknesses and shortcomings. These are the words of a man who understands how little he knows. He will not look to himself for wisdom. He will not rely on his own mind to show him the truth. Instead he will look to his Lord and Savior for his salvation.
But don’t think that this was easy for him. Don’t think that he and others had no trouble accepting Jesus’ teaching. Time and again they showed their lack of faith. Time and again they just couldn’t understand. They had every reason to walk away. But they remained. Not because they were something special, but because God had done something special in them. As Jesus said, ‘…no one can come to me unless the Father has enabled him.’ It was the Father who worked in them a willingness to believe. It was the Father sending his Spirit into their hearts that enabled them to trust in all the hard sayings, difficult words, and amazing promises that gave them eternal life.
This is what the Father has also done for you. He has brought to you the hard and difficult words of eternal life. Is it easy to believe that Jesus could become both God and man in person? Is it easy to believe that he lived every day of his life in perfect holiness? Is it easy to believe that he would willingly die for the world? Is it easy to believe that God would sacrifice himself for us rotten and wicked human beings? Is it easy to believe that Jesus rose from death after three days in the tomb? Is it easy to believe that you don’t have to do anything to earn your salvation but trust that Christ has done it all for you?
No, according to our human reason, it’s not easy. In fact, it’s impossible. We would stumble over such a preposterous offer, finding it too good to be true. But you have been enabled to believe these words of life. The Spirit has come to you and convicted you of the truth, that Christ is your complete and total Savior and through him you have eternal life. All of your arrogance is forgiven through his Word. All of your idolatry is washed away in your baptisms. All of your unwillingness to love and submit is purged from you as you receive his Holy Supper. Yes, you know and believe that Jesus is the Holy One of God!
So now it is time to recommit ourselves to these words of eternal life. Now is the time to humble ourselves before the Holy One. Knowing what these words offer means that we will never leave them again. Knowing what they bring to us means that we will never question them anymore. Knowing what they deliver means that we will center everything in our life around them and live according to them every day. We will not look to the latest trends or follow the largest crowd. We will not allow our own thoughts to get in the way. Instead we will always know that there is nowhere else to go. Our Lord has the words of eternal life. Amen.