Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him. As the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever feeds on me, he also will live because of me. This is the bread that came down from heaven, not like the bread the fathers ate, and died. Whoever feeds on this bread will live forever.” Jesus said these things in the synagogue, as he taught at Capernaum.
When many of his disciples heard it, they said, “This is a hard saying; who can listen to it?” But Jesus, knowing in himself that his disciples were grumbling about this, said to them, “Do you take offence at this? Then what if you were to see the Son of Man ascending to where he was before? It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh is no help at all. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life. But there are some of you who do not believe.” (For Jesus knew from the beginning who those were who did not believe, and who it was who would betray him.) And he said, “This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted him by the Father.”
After this many of his disciples turned back and no longer walked with him. So Jesus said to the twelve, “Do you want to go away as well?” Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God.” (John 6:56–69, ESV)
I don’t know exactly what it would have been like in that Capernaum synagogue, but I have a hunch. There would have been readings, prayers and a sermon - that much is certain - but I suspect the atmosphere would normally have been fairly quiet. The sermon would explain a passage of the scriptures, and the mood was of reverence. And then, in the midst of this, Jesus stands up and says: ”whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him”. Strong stuff. No wonder the disciples grumbled to each other “this is a hard saying; who can listen to it?”. They took offence.
On the one hand being a disciple was easy. Jesus could draw a crowd of five thousand, and heal the sick. He could feed that multitude, and walk upon the water. He was popular, and so to follow Jesus was to be one of many. To be a disciple was to be part of the inner core of a popular teacher. However, Jesus is more than simply a wonder worker. He teaches too.
It is the teaching of Jesus which causes the problems. He is the way back to God, he preaches, and the gate to eternal life. He is life, and has been sent by the Father, by God himself. He makes great claims to exclusivity, and disputes with the Temple officials. His words are “spirit and life” but they are not easy.
Which is why “no one can come to me unless it is granted him by the Father”. Our spiritual eyes need to be opened to him. Our hearts softened to receive his words. We have to take him, teaching and all. Half a Jesus is no Jesus at all.
This is the problem with what might be called a ‘secular Jesus’. Christ is often admired as a great teacher. Some even look to him to be more, to offer some sort of healing or prosperity. The problem is that the closer you look at him, the more offensive he comes. We might seek a Jesus who walks around in a white robe with a neatly trimmed beard, a Jesus who is just nice. But that Jesus doesn’t exist. Instead we have to deal with a Jesus who says that he is the onlyway back to God, which of course means that all paths don’t lead to God. We have a Jesus who teachers that suffering is part of the Faith. That we have to be different to those who live around us.
To be brief: to follow Jesus means you will follow a path which is different to the wider culture in which we live. And that can be uncomfortable. No wonder “many of his disciples turned back and no longer walked with him”.
And yet. And yet when Jesus asked the twelve “do you want to go away as well?” Peter answered for them: “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God.”
In the end it is only Jesus who can reveal God to us fully. It is only Jesus who teaches us the way back to God. Only Jesus is the Holy One of God.
That is why as the disciples believed, and put their trust in him, they came to know that there is no other way. They could not turn back because they had found Christ. The more we accept the words of Jesus and live by them the more they impart life to us. Following may be difficult at times, but it is the only way. If is the way given us by Christ. And he alone is the “Holy One of God”.
God’s grace is not cheap, but it is worth everything. Christianity is not a thin veneer to can apply to your life, but it is your whole life. To try and knock off the bits of Christianity which offend is to lose it all. We end up with a cliche in sandals. Christianity may be radical, it may be costly, but then it should be. It is worth everything.
In the end cheap Christianity is just that: cheap. Don’t settle for it - go for the real thing.