Freedom to Follow

Last Updated on May 5, 2022 by GMC

Jesus teaching his disciples. From a 1684 Arabic manuscript of the Gospels, copied in Egypt by Ilyas Basim Khuri Bazzi Rahib (likely a Coptic monk). In the collection of The Walters Art Museum, Baltimore, MD. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0.

Saturday of the Third Week of Easter

John 6:60-69

Then many of his disciples who were listening said, “This saying is hard; who can accept it?” 

John 6:60

Jesus respected the freedom of his disciples. Without coercion, they were free to accept his words and stay, or leave. 

Since Jesus knew that his disciples were murmuring about this, he said to them, “Does this shock you?

John 6:61

Jesus was not looking for popularity or concerned about public image. On the way to the Cross, he stood to gain nothing and lose everything. As a fisher of men, he cast into the sea a most offensive bait (skandalizó—“shock”). When the fish began dispersing, Jesus made no attempt to make his bait more palatable or attractive, but reiterated his claim to be “from heaven” and “from above” (John 6:38; 3:13).

What if you were to see the Son of Man ascending to where he was before? It is the spirit that gives life, while the flesh is of no avail. The words I have spoken to you are spirit and life.

John 6:62-63

In the protohistory of Genesis, human lifespans were curtailed when the LORD withdrew his spirit from flesh after a limited duration. 

Then the Lord said: My spirit shall not remain in human beings forever, because they are only flesh. Their days shall comprise one hundred and twenty years.

Genesis 6:3

After the rise and fall of multiple civilizations from the time of the Flood, the complexification of human cultures made the divine simplicity of “spirit and life” seem very remote.

But there are some of you who do not believe.” Jesus knew from the beginning the ones who would not believe and the one who would betray him.

John 6:64

No amount of theologizing will produce a satisfactory theory of human freedom in the face of divine love. Much of what Jesus claims does not fall into neat, rational categories. Jesus presents himself as he is, granting everyone the freedom to follow or depart. 

And he said, “For this reason I have told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted him by my Father.”

John 6:65

This statement may vex those accustomed to striving and achieving goals by human effort. Following Jesus, however, is not an achievement, but a gift of faith from the Father. But if faith is wanting, is the Father to be blamed? Such a conclusion is inadmissible. 

The Cross is evidence that Jesus values our freedom even more than his own life. He is the polar opposite of a tyrant. Freedom and love are inseparable.

As a result of this, many of his disciples returned to their former way of life and no longer accompanied him.

John 6:66

More literally, these disciples no longer “walked” (peripateó) with him. “Walking” (halak) with God is a central idea of Jewish faith and religion (Deuternomy 8:6; 26:17).

Jesus then said to the Twelve, “Do you also want to leave?”

John 6:67

Like a perfect host, Jesus left the door open for his guests to come and go as they wished. 

Simon Peter answered him, “Master, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and are convinced that you are the Holy One of God.”

John 6:68

Peter’s question expressed his realization that, even though it was tempting to search for a more palatable teaching, none were on the horizon. Jesus was here and he had “the words of eternal life.”

We have come to believe and are convinced that you are the Holy One of God.”

John 6:69

These words of faith came wholly from Peter’s own heart, in synergy with the Spirit, without force or indoctrination. Jesus was a rabbi like no other.

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