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? – John 6:60-61
Following Jesus is difficult. It’s not for those who seek comfort or personal gain. Quite the opposite; more than once Jesus makes it clear that to follow Him we must be willing to forsake everything we care about, our families, our wealth, and our homes.
The passage here in John 6:56-69 shows us not just the challenge that Jesus extends to us, but also the response of those who were with Jesus on earth to that challenge. Jesus teaches them that He is the Bread of Life. In verse 60, the disciples respond, “This teaching is difficult; who can accept it?” Sensing their hesitation, Jesus asks them if they find his words offensive. Later on in verse 66, we read that many of Jesus’s followers indeed thought His words were too challenging, and turned away from Him.
The offensiveness of the Gospel is sometimes a point of pride among Christians. We might consider it proof that we understand something the world does not. The example of love and sacrifice presented Christ here and elsewhere in the Gospels is certainly offensive to the world around us. But soon we realize it is also offensive to we who have spent our lives in the church. Here we see this offensiveness laid out for the so-called faithful. In declaring Himself the bread of life, Jesus subtly devalues the heritage His Jewish listeners celebrated. They received bread in the wilderness, but it was only bread that would sustain them for one more day. That miracle could merely delay death a little longer. How much greater is this bread that Jesus offers, that fills our spirits and renews us? They no longer needed to look to their past or traditions to sustain them. God was doing something amazing at that very moment.
Like the Hebrews in the time of Jesus, the church in the 21st Century is steeped in tradition. We have many great stories of our faith, both biblical and personal. I know that my own life is filled with stories like that, how God intervened in the lives of friends and family. We all have cherished traditions that inform our worship. These memories and traditions are inspiring, but inspiration is not the point of following Jesus. These moments will not sustain us. Jesus has called us to so much more. He has called us to confess our sins, to be renewed through the power of the Holy Spirit, and to be transformed by the Spirit into a new kind of person. These transformed people are beyond the world’s understanding. This world understands traditions and memories, but it could never understand how people could be transformed to no longer obey the law of death that they believe to be the final word. Will you allow this rejection of comforting memories to offend you and turn you away? Or will you embrace the Bread of Life that Jesus offers to truly be transformed?
– Nate Owens is the Regional Communications Coordinator for the Asia-Pacific Region