In our Gospel today, those who have been following Jesus become dissatisfied by his teaching. They say to Him, “This is a hard saying; who can listen to it?” When we truly dive into Scripture and allow God’s word to permeate our lives, we too come across passages and teachings that cause us to say, “This is a hard saying; who can listen to it?” How should we respond?Perhaps we can take some instruction from our Gospel to look at some responses. As Jesus turns to those who are grumbling, he asks, “Do you take offense at this?” One of our first tasks is to truly define what “this” might be. As we come across a difficult passage of Scripture, we need to look at that passage not in isolation but in the context of the particular book, the context of the entire canon of Scripture, and the historical context in which it was written. Some of the difficult passages may not be offensive to us at all once properly understood.
If we are still taking offense at Scripture, we need to look at ourselves. We are usually offended by things that challenge a deeply held belief or value. We can ask ourselves what exactly is being challenged. In today’s Gospel, Jesus has just challenged those around Him saying that they have no life apart from Him. They thought they were alive and Jesus called them dead. That is a pretty big challenge indeed! No wonder they were offended.
The question is how they would respond to this challenge between their understanding and the words of Jesus. We face the same question as we take offense at Scripture. Jesus offers three statements that can help guide us.
“What if you were to see the Son of Man ascending to where he was before?” In other words, if you believe in the life, death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus the Christ, shouldn’t you also believe what He says? This statement challenges the way we determine truth. Is truth based on our own feelings or understanding, or is truth defined by God. As we realize that Scripture has an authority beyond ourselves, when our beliefs or values are challenged by the Truth in Scripture the challenge becomes, “Do I believe enough in the love of Christ to be changed?”
“The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life.” This statement draws us into faith as we allow ourselves to be changed at a very deep level by Scripture. It is the promise that even when it may be painful, we are being led to spirit and life.
“No one can come to me unless it is granted him by the Father.” What a relief to know that all this struggle to understand and grow is not up to me. Isaiah reminds us that wisdom, knowledge and understanding are gifts of the Holy Spirit. As we come to these difficult passages, we can pray to the Father for guidance by the Spirit.
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.” I don’t think that the twelve were any less confused by the words of Jesus or any less offended. They simply trusted that Jesus knew what they didn’t and could lead them where they could not go on their own.