Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them. Just as the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever eats me will live because of me. This is the bread that came down from heaven, not like that which your ancestors ate, and they died. But the one who eats this bread will live forever.” He said these things while he was teaching in the synagogue at Capernaum.
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.” (NRSV)
Perhaps expectedly, there was mixed reaction to Jesus’ invitation to ‘eat my flesh’ and ‘drink my blood’. We read that ‘many’ of Jesus’ followers commented: ‘This teaching is difficult; Who can accept it?’
And who could disagree? Either one pursues Jesus’ line of thinking or one walks away. Unless there is something deeper this claim is quite literally unpalatable. For some Jesus’ question: ‘Does this offend you?’ only states the obvious.
And so the weighty verse: ‘many of his disciples turned back and no longer went about with him’. It sits heavily. Jesus gets to the core of his mission and those close to him are split. Despite his invitation to look deeper – the ‘words…are spirit and life’ – some cease to truly ask. It is all too much – too difficult.
Of course, some stay – but not because everything is clear. There is no indication that these have additional insight. They all hear the same apparently cannibalistic words and they all question. Perhaps there is even a resonance, a sympathy, an understanding that bounces back and forth between these parting groups: doubt and faith in every heart.
But those who remain highlight the hope Jesus instilled: ‘Lord, to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life’. Words of faith and trust to be sure – but perhaps not of absolute certainty or complete understanding. A light has appeared and they are – along with all their questions – prepared to pursue it.
I wonder if the gap between these two responses is really as wide as the actions they inspire. After all they both ask and question. The difference may only be that some presume there are no more answers- and some, by a God-granted grace, hope Jesus has more to offer.
Then again, perhaps that is a vast gap indeed.