It is tempting in any spiritual tradition to pick and choose, taking those parts we like and leaving behind the aspects of the teaching we find difficult or challenging.
Many of the people who benefited from hearing Jesus’ teaching in person, and were considered his “disciples”, responded to his words with frustration,
When many of his disciples heard it, they said, ‘This teaching is difficult; who can accept it?’ (John 6:60)
When Jesus refused to moderate his tone and accommodate himself to the sensitivities of his audience
many of his disciples turned back and no longer went about with him. (John 6:66)
Jesus understood that, in order for anyone to open to his teaching, something must resonate in the depths of their being.
And he said, ‘For this reason I have told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted by the Father.’ (John 6:65)
It is a challenging statement. Is there anyone to whom it has not been “granted” to come to truth, light and love? If a person was born into the world with no capacity to appreciate beauty, would such a person be condemned for failing to see the beauty of life?
Jesus told his struggling disciples,
It is the spirit that gives life; the flesh is useless. (John 6:63)
Spiritual reality can only be received by the spirit. Flesh alone does not have the capacity to perceive the things of the spirit.
There are people who appear to have no interest in anything other than “the flesh”. The realm of the spirit seems to be completely foreign territory for some people. It is as if the spiritual microchip is simply missing from their hard drive. They are not bad people. In some cases, people who show no propensity at all for the life of the spirit, may be kinder and more loving than many of us who spend our lives concerned with matters of the spirit.
The disciples who deserted Jesus in John chapter six did not turn away because they were any more wicked or heart-heated than anyone else. They were driven away by a question Jesus asked.
But Jesus, being aware that his disciples were complaining about it, said to them, ‘Does this offend you? Then what if you were to see the Son of man ascending to where he was before? (John 6:61,62)
Jesus uses the image of “ascending” to speak of the realm of the spirit. But the important thing to see here is that Jesus claims to be able to coexist in spirit and in flesh without distinction. For Jesus there is no division between the realm of the flesh and the realm of the spirit. In himself Jesus broke down the duality. The problem for those who rejected Jesus was that they were living in a bifurcated world, refusing to see the unity of all being.
Judas son of Simon Iscariot is the archetype of the disciple who turns away from Jesus. Jesus called Judas “a devil”. The Greek word translated “devil” is diabolos. It is a compound word made up of dia, “through” and ballo, “to throw”. If we throw a stone through a window, the window shatters. Diabolos is the force of fragmentation. It breaks things apart. It separates flesh and spirit.
Jesus demonstrated in his own person that spirit and flesh are united. They are not separate forces pulling in opposite directions. But, when we determine to live only in the flesh we are only partially alive. It becomes impossible for us to perceive the realities of the spirit that “gives life”. Focused exclusively on the “flesh” it becomes impossible for us to perceive that which is naturally “granted by the Father”.