In the “bread of life” verses in John’s Gospel, Chapter 6, Jesus says a lot that is difficult to understand and to wrap our minds around. The disciples did a good job of asking probing questions, trying to get Jesus to clarify what he was talking about. But the more he talked, the more confused they became. Finally, they began mumbling amongst themselves what many of them had been thinking all along. “This saying is hard; who can accept it?” And they were right.
It wasn’t so much that they were expressing their objections to carrying out the dictates of Jesus. Rather, they really were simply struggling to figure out what he was trying to say.
In reality, almost nothing Jesus ever said was easy. Rather, almost all of it was challenging — statements which often encouraged them to act or see others or think in ways that were much different from the way they usually navigated the world. These were hard because they challenged people to act in ways they might not normally want to act. And as a result, these types of statements from the mouth of Jesus were tremendously hard to accept — not because the disciples couldn’t understand their meaning — but because, in their estimation, Jesus was asking too much of them.
Almost everything Jesus said (as recorded in scripture) posed a challenge — a challenge to the status quo, a challenge to the way things had always been done, a challenge to the easy way out.
And while many who encountered Jesus were more than happy to accept him as a friend or teacher, many were simply not prepared to get on board with everything he was saying.
In many ways, we have an easier time accepting some of the truly incredible things Jesus said than we do accepting some of the more clear, direct and transparent things that came from his mouth. It’s easier to accept things that don’t seem to demand much from us. But accept things that actually make us act differently and think differently and see other people differently? Suddenly we’re not as eager to get on board.
Turn the other cheek. Go the extra mile. Give our second coat to someone in need. Take care of the stranger in need. Forgive seventy times seven times. Love our enemies. But don’t hold grudges? Don’t store up riches? Lay down our lives for our friends? Jesus couldn’t possibly mean all those things could he? These sayings are hard — who can accept them?
Today, we are invited to once again examine our commitment to being a follower of Jesus or lack thereof. We’re asked to take a long hard look as to whether or not we are really buying whatever it is that Jesus is selling. That’s a tough question, but one whose answer makes all the difference in the world and for the world.
Is it too hard to forgive the unforgiveable? Is it too hard to give a lot when we have a little? Is it too hard to reconcile with those who have wronged us? Is it too hard to turn the other cheek, love our enemies, lay down our lives for others?
May we have the faith and courage and wisdom to not only echo what Joshua said long ago — “As for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.”
Deacon Stuart Neslin is a Deacon and Parish Administrator at St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Rome.