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. So Jesus asked the twelve, “Do you also wish to go away?” Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and know that you are the Holy One of God.”
“Do you also wish to go away?” What a question to come from Jesus who promised never to leave us or forsake us! The passage begins with the disciples telling Jesus that his teaching is difficult – so difficult, apparently, that some of his followers leave him. He pointedly asks the core twelve disciples if they want to leave too.
What has Jesus been teaching that is causing such a stir? In short, he has been teaching that he is the Son of God. “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.” When he states that in more concrete terms, “Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me and I in them,” he really gets their attention! Those words were shocking and disturbing because many took them quite literally.
Theologian Amy Howe makes the point that the key to understanding Jesus’ words is contained in “abide in me.” She writes that Jesus is inviting the disciples and you and me to be at home in him, just as he is at home in God.
Jesus does not sugar coat the challenge of following him. He does, however, make clear that following him will change their lives forever. Ours will be changed too. The important thing that I remember and hold fast to when things do get challenging is that Jesus promised never to leave us or forsake us. Jesus’ spirit abides in us, and that makes all the difference!
So, who will you follow and with whom will you abide?
Abide with me: fast falls the eventide;
the darkness deepens; Lord, with me abide:
when other helpers fail and comforts flee,
help of the helpless, O abide with me.
(Henry Francis Lyte)