Yesterday, we took a look at Luke 4:14-30, where the nasty Nazarenes wanted to harm or kill Jesus for saying some things they didn’t like.
The fickle bread seekers we looked at on Friday in John 6 aren’t quite that bad, but they’re also great examples of how not to respond to Jesus – not that He was particularly conciliatory in that exchange, either:
53 Jesus said to them, “Very truly I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. 54 Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise them up at the last day. 55 For my flesh is real food and my blood is real drink. 56 Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me, and I in them.
60 On hearing it, many of his disciples said, “This is a hard teaching. Who can accept it?” … 66 From this time many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him.
What’s very important – and pretty easy to miss – in this exchange is that it’s not only the clueless and hungry crowd who desert Jesus at this point, it’s also many of His disciples who stop following Him. The Twelve stick by him in John 6:67-69, but, prior to this conversation at least, there were many more than 12 disciples. (Let’s say for the sake of simplicity that Jesus has 100 disciples prior to John 6, and that all 88 of the ones who weren’t among the Twelve deserted Him at this point.)
Be careful how you answer.
Many of the 88 were happy to follow Jesus for quite a long time, and probably agreed with a lot of what He taught. If they’d had the luxury of pick-and-choose disciplehood, I bet they’d have stuck around a lot longer.
Unfortunately for them, Jesus’ declaration in this passage – that people can (and need to!) eat His flesh and drink His blood – forces them to choose a side. If Jesus is just the Son of Joseph, this is a literal invitation to murder and eat Him, and he’s therefore got to be insane. The only way this declaration is anything other than the ravings of a lunatic is if Jesus is the Son of God – and that is a tough pill to swallow all at once.
But ‘all at once’ is what is required of the 88, because Jesus, for them, was an in-the-flesh human being, and pick-and-choose disciplehood wasn’t an option. If you didn’t physically go where Jesus went, you weren’t His follower. Period.
It was a very simple ‘in or out’ decision.
A lot of us today live as though we think there’s a third option for us – as if the potential answers to the question, ‘Are you a follower of Jesus?’ are …
(c) In some areas and/or some of the time
… and that this is a perfectly acceptable way to be. As if Jesus is content with whatever share of our lives we’re willing to let Him shine on.
The reality is that Jesus wants, and has every right to demand, all of us. Pick-and-choose disciplehood is no more an option for us than it was for the 100 people who followed Jesus at the start of John 6.
We’re in, or we’re out. All or nothing. Black or white. God gives us the free will to choose Him (all of Him) or not, and He respects our choices. So choose wisely.
And yet …
One thing that’s quite important to note in this story is that Jesus didn’t send the 88 away.
They ‘turned back and no longer followed Him‘, all on their own. It was they who couldn’t stand to be in Jesus’ presence, not the other way around.
If they had stuck around, is it possible that some of them would have come around?
The Twelve, on the other hand, did stay with Jesus. And they were wholeheartedly committed to their Master at that moment and for the rest of their lives. Right?
67 “You do not want to leave too, do you?” Jesus asked the Twelve.
68 Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. 69 We have come to believe and to know that you are the Holy One of God.”
I’d paraphrase that as, ‘You scare the spit out of me, Jesus. But the only thing scarier than following you is all of the alternatives.’
(It’s probably a good thing there’s no Gospel According to Baldy.)
As we who’ve read the rest of the story know, the Twelve had their breaking points, too. As Verse 70-71 tells us (Spoiler alert!), Judas betrayed Jesus. Peter gets singled out because he denied knowing Jesus three times, but all of the disciples ‘deserted Jesus and fled’ when He was arrested, according to Matthew 26:56. Later, Thomas doubts Jesus’ resurrection.
But Jesus never gave up on them, and through them, as they came around to greater and greater degrees, He used them to do great things.
So, clearly, all-or-nothing disciplehood didn’t come with an expectation of perfection for those disciples – and it still doesn’t for us. He can work with us when we take three steps forward, two steps back (or even vice-versa).
Jesus deserves and requires our all, but somehow the miracle of His grace allows us to give it to Him a little at a time.
Thanks be to God.
Peace be with you.