Have you heard the saying: “Nothing succeeds like success”?
Well, you only have to look at politicians to see how true this is. When they’re riding high, everybody follows them. But as soon as things begin to go wrong, their supporters leave like rats from a sinking ship. And once it starts it doesn’t stop, does it? Even their closest colleagues begin to walk away from them, because they don’t want to be tarred with the same brush.
And perhaps it was a bit like this with Jesus. In the beginning men and women were flocking to him. Saint John, who wrote this account, has already told us that when Jesus was in Jerusalem at the Passover, many people saw his miracles and believed in him. His disciples could hardly keep up with the baptisms of the huge numbers who were turning to him; and only the day before the discussion which we’ve just heard, the crowds had flocked to him and he’d fed them miraculously.
But now he was explaining the feeding. He said that the real bread which he’d give them would be his own flesh and blood. He said that by taking his life into their life, by feeding on him, they were taking into themselves the very life of God. He was claiming to be divine;and they realised this.
They also knew that as far as the Authorities were concerned , this kind of talk was blasphemy, and blasphemy was dangerous. The punishment was death. That’s why many of the people who’d been following Jesus began to desert him. They saw quite clearly just where he was heading. They recognised the dangers of being associated with somebody like this; somebody who was heading for disaster by challenging the powers that be.
They knew that Jesus wouldn’t be able to do this and get away with it; and they feared that if they were seen to be followers of this man, well, they’d be tarred with the same brush. They would probably face the same charges of blasphemy and the same penalty. And so they slipped away.
Those who drifted off would probably have stuck with Jesus so long as his career was on the upward path, but as soon as the first shadow of the cross fell on him ,they left. They were happy to follow him when they were getting something from him. It was great to be fed , but the possibility of suffering for him and giving something back to him, that was a different matter, and they quit.
And perhaps there’s a lesson here for us. Very often it’s great to be a Christian, a follower of Jesus. Things can go along swimmingly. We go to church as long as something more important doesn’t crop up. We meet up with decent like-minded people and we may well feel that we’re contributing to making the world a better place as we donate a bit of our spare money to good causes. We feel good about ourselves.
And then the crunch comes. It may not be as vivid as the crunch which came to those first followers, but it will be of exactly the same type.
Let me give you one or two examples:
You’re getting on well at work, or in the neighbourhood, and then it becomes clear that you’re a Christian, go to church and all that kind of stuff. Now, make no mistake about it, if you’re a Christian today a lot of people will think that you’ve lost the plot or that you’re a silly do-gooder, and you may well be laughed at or made the butt of jokes.
How do you handle that? What do you do? You may well be tempted to play down your commitment, or to pretend that in your case you only go to please somebody else. And if you do this you’re walking away from Jesus just as surely as those first followers.
You see, we all walk away from Jesus. We’re all tempted in different ways, and you will know the particular way in which you’re tempted to desert him. The important thing is not to be blind to it, and when it happens, as it will, we must acknowledge it, accept the forgiveness of Jesus and go back. We need to remember that in following Jesus there is always a cross.
This was the pattern for Peter, the leader of the Apostles, and it will be the pattern for us too. Peter ran away from Jesus right at the end, but he came back. He came back because he’d recognised from those early days, the fact that there was just no one else to go to. For Peter, Jesus alone had the words of eternal life.
There were many things which he didn’t understand; he was as bewildered and puzzled as anyone else, but his heart had felt the pull of the magnet which is the love of God in Christ. He felt this pull even whilst he was walking away from Jesus at his trial. And it was a pull which produced an allegiance and a love from a heart which would not allow him to do anything else, but to be pulled back. A pull which is ours too.
May we all feel it each day of our lives. Amen.