"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 6:66-69
I’ve heard a number of sermons on this passage. And most of them go about this way: Jesus was testing His disciples, Peter shows faith (might want to give the Church to that guy), Jesus will test us, we should have faith like Peter.
There is a good chance that this may be the way that this should be read. Maybe. But I can’t read this and see something more. I can’t read it without hearing heartbreak within the voice of Christ. The type of voice that we all have heard from someone we love, if you have not I pray you never have to...but you will, I am sorry that you will. But you will. The tone which tells us that something is wrong, something is broken, far before their words do. Let’s remember what just happened before this. Jesus fed a multitude that seemed to only want a free meal. He had thousands of people sitting there in front of Him, people who had traveled to hear his voice. I've had the privilege of speaking to a few thousand people a handful of times, and it's a good feeling. I had to fight pride doing it. And I believe that Jesus did as well.
These people sit down before Him and He begins to teach. But this time Jesus has things to say that didn’t fit into the nice, happy, give-me-whatever-I-want model that everyone wanted Jesus to fit into. That all to often I want Jesus to fit into. Because He loved these people He told them the truth. And sometimes truth can hurt like a son-of-a-bitch. Sometimes truth is hard to hear, sometimes it's hard to say. But Jesus said it. Everyone heard the it, they felt the pain, and decided it was too much. Or too hard. Or too painful. They heard what Jesus had to say, they packed up, they left.
After this the disciples were grumbling about it. It’s at this point we can say, “Those damn disciples, they just don’t get it.” But I think of how often I do the same. I hear what Jesus says, and call it hard. I grumble. I try to find an easier way. I don’t want a hard thing that will bring great joy down the road, I want an easy think that will make me feel ok now. How often just ok now, not even good, robs from true joy down a hard path.
They grumble, they complain. And Jesus again speaks a hard truth again.
“But Jesus, knowing in himself that his disciples were grumbling about this, said to them, 'Do you take offense 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'” –John 6:61-64
Jesus knows that what is best for them, for me, for us, is truth. And so it’s truth He gives. For truth is what He is. He looks at them and watches some of his disciples turn tail and leave. These were not just some of the people that came for a free lunch. These were people who's faces He would have known. People who told Him that they were all in. These were people who called Him friend, who called Him beloved. And it got hard, and they left. And that type of pain, the type that can only come when someone we care for leaves. Jesus felt it. It cut Him deep. The author of Hebrews says that Jesus suffered and was tempted in every way as we are. And I believe that means He felt this. I have to. As someone who has felt that pain I have to believe Jesus did as well, how else could I run to him when the wound reopens and the pain floods back in like a flood.
I can imagine Jesus standing there, eyes getting watery with the pain, heart breaking in the sight of people walking away, voice cracking with the ache. He looks at the 12. Those that were closest and asks, are you going to just walk away too? We know time and again from reading Scripture that Jesus knows what’s going on in people’s hearts. And again I have to imagine that Jesus asked this because He knew the question was in their heart.
I know it’s been in my heart. The weighting out of every option. Wanting to follow Jesus, but also wanting an easier way. Trusting Christ for eternal joy, but wanting it to feel alright in the moment. Wanting Jesus, plus other stuff. Good stuff, even godly stuff. But Jesus plus stuff none the less. Wanting all Jesus offers. At least all that He offers minus the pain, the trouble, the suffering.
I believe that Peter’s answer is the same one that I have found at the end of such wrestling. Yes, there are other desires my heart chases. Yes, I often find idols in my heart that promise an easier path. Yes, I don’t want the way that’s hard. Yes, sometimes I know the truth but want to believe the lie. Yes, to all of the above. But where else can I go? Once we have tasted what Christ has to offer, where else can I run and not regret it?
Some preachers I have heard have written this off as an easy decision. And thank God, sometimes it is. But sometimes it’s hard. Sometimes it takes a second to answer. Sometimes it takes a long hard look at what’s deep in the dark places of the heart. And it’s in those times that make us show our true colors. When the path that Jesus invites us to walk is marked by betray, pain, heartache, tears, being lied to, and lied about. It’s in those times, the times that I’m alone, feeling the pain of running other places or to other people, it’s in those times that I find myself echoing Peter.
To whom shall I go? Where else can I run? Where else can I go?
When we can say with Peter that we have come to truly know Jesus, the only option we can truly run back to is Jesus.