The synagogue—usually so airy, with crossways cannily appointed to encourage even the slightest waft of wind to breeze through the room—grew stuffy and sweltering as the men nervously fingered their blue tassels, their prayer shawls’ fringes, as they rubbed the coarse hairs of their beards between anxious fingers, muttering, shifting on the stone benches along the walls, furtively attempting to catch each others’ eye.
Jesus paused, letting his arms fall to his sides. His disciples, he knew, were just as agitated behind him, looking to the ground, studying their own sandals, hands held together in front of them. Few looked at Jesus anymore, hoping he would stop talking. That he would just . . . stop.
As his silence grew, and the unhappy hum in the room buzzed with increasing turmoil, Jesus lifted his hand. Unwillingly, yet strangely compelled, their voices dimmed. “Indeed,” he began, “Some of you all do not believe.” Many nodded vigorously, angrily, passionately, even saying yes, I do not.
For Jesus had known within himself from the very start who would not believe him, who would not put their faith in him. And he had always known who would betray him.
John felt the hair on his arms prickle and his eyes suddenly began to sting, as though the smoke of a fire had shifted. Somehow the room seemed dusky, there was an almost indiscernible haze making it hard to see and to breath. Unconsciously, he ran his fingers along the neck opening of his inner garment, then shook his outer garment. He looked over to Jesus, who was already looking at him.
John felt he could read in his rabbi’s face a knowing that darkness was settling within the room. A sobering spiritual truth was at work. When people obey the truth they know, then they will be taught more truth. But those who resist the truth will eventually lose their capacity to see and hear the truth anymore.
Jesus again turned to those gathered before him in the now still room. “Because of this,” and he slowly spread his arms out and looked around the entire room, indicating all that had transpired, “I told you all that not one is able to come to me if it had not been committed-granted-and-bestowed by the Father.”
Many glowered at Jesus’ words, faces clouded over and hardened, fingers curled into fists. They were so close to the truth! They had been following Jesus for two years. But ultimately, they would not accept all that Jesus had to teach them. The air thickened into an almost unbearable miasma, several raised their sleeves to their noses and mouths, as others’ lips formed into hard lines of rejection.
It is possible to understand exactly what God is saying, yet not be moved by it, nor be willing to accept the truth of it. The room began to clear as one here, two there, silently rose to leave, turning their backs on the prophet and rabbi they had followed.
And Jesus watched without a word.
At last, only the twelve and a few women remained, arrayed around him. Jesus looked at each one, his eyes full of love. Finally, he asked of his disciples, “And do you all not want to withdraw?” In their response, each man instead drew closer, leaning into the circle around their rabban. Simon Peter spoke for them when he said, “Sir, who can we go off to?”
As hard as this teaching was, as shocking as it was, as difficult as it was to receive it, to whom else would they go? Jesus was presenting an entirely new way of relating to God, and what he was proposing literally turned upside down everything they had ever believed or done. And yet,
“You have the words of eternal life.” Peter said, and everyone nodded. Peter worked his lips, not knowing really how to say the rest of what was burning in his chest. At last, he spoke in a hoarse voice, filled with tears, “And we believe,” he stopped for a moment, then added, “and know that you are the holy one of God.” His voice had become a whisper of awe.
Who else was God?
Who else had the truth?
Against every hard teaching, they kept asking themselves the same question: to Whom else would we want to go?
In the face of either receiving a hard truth because it comes from God, or rejecting a hard truth and therefore having to reject God, Peter spoke for himself and ten of his companion disciples when he said they would accept Jesus as a package deal. He did not realize it, but he was not speaking for all.
Jesus warmly pressed Peter’s shoulder in a gesture of love and friendship, then opened his gaze to take in each of the men before him, as he said, “Did I not choose you twelve?” Then his eyes rested at the end, on Judas. “Yet, out of you all, one is a false accuser, a slanderer.”
John would remember that day, that moment, over and over in the ensuing years. He would never again be able to speak of Judas without also reminding his audience of Judas’ betrayal, his violation of all that was good and lovely.
There were three kinds of disciples surrounding Jesus that day.
- The first group were the disciples who would follow Jesus for a while, but then leave him.
- The second group Peter spoke for, disciples who loved Jesus so much that even when he gave them a hard teaching, they would stick close to him.
- The third kind of disciple was Judas, someone who did not accept Jesus, but would not leave either. Jesus did not say his name, but he called Judas a devil, someone who was completely opposed to Jesus and would betray him with false accusation.
The amazing thing about Judas is that he was one of the chosen twelve. In Luke’s gospel Jesus spent all night praying, then specially selected Judas along with the others. Jesus loved Judas, taught him, gave him the same authority and privilege of all the rest of Jesus’ disciples.
When Jesus sent the other disciples out, he sent Judas out, too, with the same power to cast out demons and to heal the sick. Jesus even gave Judas the trusted position of treasurer, yet Judas brazenly pilfered from their common purse on a regular basis, inuring himself to the wrongness of stealing from his own rabbi, and fellow disciples.
Jesus gave even Judas every chance, but there was no faith in him. Even at that time, he was out for himself and subversive to Jesus’ mission.
The truth claims of Jesus must never be compromised
Jesus was not trying to be popular, he was not attempting to market himself well.
Jesus was laying it out like it is.
As much as it must have hurt him to see so many people turn away, it was more important to Jesus to have eleven disciples who really believed and were willing to trust him even in the hard things, rather than have a huge following of people who did not understand or believe the truth.
People do not grow spiritually unless they believe and operate on the truth.
What truths do you and I need to re-examine?
What truths have we conveniently underplayed, or tucked away, because to believe and live by them would be uncomfortable for us?
The first one that popped into your mind just now might be the Holy Spirit speaking deep into your spirit.
The first part of this post is my imagined setting of the scenes, as taken from John 6:60-71
[Judas Iscariot | José Ferraz de Almeida Júnior / Public domain]