"Because of [the controversial things Jesus was saying] many of his disciples turned back and no longer went about with him. So Jesus asked the twelve, 'Do you also wish to go away?' Simon Peter answered him, 'Lord, to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and know that you are the Holy One of God." - John 6:66-69
The passage above is a key moment in the ministry of Jesus. It is also a key moment in the life of Peter and the other twelve disciples. The context is that Jesus has already begun his public ministry. He has already called the twelve disciples. Furthermore, hordes of people have also fallen in line with Jesus as he travels about Galilee doing the work God the Father sent him to do. In many instances, Jesus has worked miracles. He has brought healing where there was sickness, sight to eyes that were blind, and hope to hearts that were crushed. It is natural, then, that so many are now falling in behind him - following him in hopes that Jesus might be a savior, someone who can fix their lives.
But in the midst of all this surging hope and promise, Jesus begins to say some things that are difficult to understand. Jesus speaks in such a way that jolts the mind and the heart. And many in the great crowds begin to turn back for home. The enthusiasm and promises of falling Jesus begin to fade and reality has begun to set in: Jesus has come as Savior of the whole world, but he has also come as the great Redeemer. He has come to refashion and reform hearts and minds. And Jesus' words - his commands, his teachings, his instructions - are the only words that we have, the only Word that can operate and heal and transform us.
The commands and instructions that Jesus has for us are not always easy to understand, apply, or follow. But, Peter in this case is right on: with Jesus are the words of eternal life. Strange though they may be, these are the words that can and do lead to our redemption. These are the words and teachings that lead us to the deepest pools of joy and peace that we desire (John 15:9-11). His commands - although seemingly difficult or extreme - are, in fact, easy and the blessed way.
I mention all of this because this all applies to the Sermon on the Mount and our reading of it. Just as many began to depart from Jesus when he opened his mouth in the sixth chapter of John, so many of us began to depart from Jesus when he moves into his commands in Matthew 5:17-49. We like the Beatitudes, just as there were many who loved the miraculous, generous grace and power Jesus showed to the poor and broken. Yet, for all of us who long to walk with Jesus, there comes a time when Jesus asks us, "Do you also wish to go away?" He doesn't ask it in a condemning or harsh manner. Just quietly and respectfully and as someone who loves us deeply, he asks us. Jesus does not force us down the road of being his disciple. Jesus leaves us the option to decide, to determine if we're ready to take on his yoke - to learn from his teachings, to experience his gracious patience with us as he reworks our hearts and minds. Though our transformation may not all seem like much fun, and while it will often go against our natural tendencies, Jesus' instructions and work upon our life is refreshing and healing.