The Rev. Canon Jan Naylor Cope
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.” Jesus answered them, “Did I not choose you, the twelve? Yet one of you is a devil.” He was speaking of Judas son of Simon Iscariot, for he, though one of the twelve, was going to betray him.
“Do you also wish to go away?” Every time I read Jesus’ question; it breaks my heart. Jesus knew that he was offering the way, the truth, and the life (John 14:6a), but not everyone could hear it and believe it. The difficult teaching mentioned at the beginning of this passage refers to Jesus’ teaching in Capernaum, “Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them.” The words had to have been shocking and disturbing to those who took them quite literally.
Scholar Amy Howe makes the point that the key to the passage is “…abide in me…” Jesus is inviting the disciples 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 just tells them that if they do follow him, their lives will be changed forever. Ours will be too. As we follow Jesus, his spirit abides in us, and that makes all the difference.
One of my favorite hymns about abiding is Henry Francis Lyte’s “Abide With Me.” Lyte long suffered from a lung disorder that turned into tuberculosis. At the age of 54, he preached his last sermon with great difficulty. He wrote the poem/hymn we remember today as his earthly life was drawing to a close. Lyte wrote poignantly about the evening of one’s life trusting in the abiding presence of our God. Abide in me says Jesus. Let it be so for you and for me.
Abide with me: fast falls the eventide; the darkness deepens; Lord, with me abide: when other helpers fail and comforts flee, in life, in death, O Lord, abide with me.
(The Hymnal 1982, words by Henry Francis Lyte)