The Hard Sayings of Jesus
The Gospel narratives often highlighted the people’s reactions to Jesus Christ’s words, including Mark’s insight that they were often “amazed” or “astonished” (Mark 1:22, 27). John recalled the reaction to the Bread of Life Sermon delivered in Capernaum when Jesus declared that he was the “living manna” and that all must “eat his flesh and drink his blood,” noting that many of Jesus’ disciples responded, “This is an hard saying; who can hear it? (John 6:60; emphasis added). Apparently, for many, this was the straw that broke the proverbial camel’s back because, as John noted, “From that time many of his disciples. . . walked no more with him” (John 6:66).
This was the only time Jesus Christ said something that was a “hard saying” for his audience. In another setting, Jesus prefaced his remarks by indicating that “all men cannot receive this saying” (Matthew 19:11) as he talked about dedication to the kingdom. Not only did those who lived during Jesus’ ministry find some of his sayings difficult to understand or to live but also succeeding generations have found something “hard” in the sayings of Jesus Christ, sayings that have often baffled readers and symied commentators who have attempted to soften or explain what Jesus said. Perhaps above all else, they represent a personal teaching method of Jesus, who clearly presented part of his message using hyperbole:
“It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God” (Matthew 19:24).”
“Think not that I am come to send peace on earth; I came not to send peace, but a sword” (Matthew 10:34).
“Another of his disciples said unto him, Lord suffer me first to go and bury my father. But Jesus said unto him, Follow me; and let the dead bury the dead” (Matthew 8:21).
“All men cannot receive this saying, save they to whom it is given. For there are some eunuchs, which were so born from their mother’s womb; and there are some eunuchs, which were made eunuchs of men; and there be eunuchs, which have made themselves eunuchs for the kingdom of heaven’s sake. He that is able to receive it, let him receive it” (Matthew 19:11-12).
“Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect” (Matthew 5:48).
Following the Bread of Life Sermon when many of his disciples walked away from him, Jesus Christ asked the Twelve if they would go away also. Peter, speaking for the group, asked, “To whom shall we go? thou hast the words of eternal life” (John 6:67-68). Although showing a very human side of the Lord, Jesus’ question challenged the audience of the first century as it does the modern audience.
Richard Neitzel Holzapfel, Eric D. Huntsman, Thomas A. Wayment, Jesus Christ and the World of the New Testament, 2006, Deseret Book Company, Salt Lake City, Utah, p. 48.
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