Rejection is a fact of life for Christians. No matter how kind we are, no matter how eloquently we present the good news, no matter how sensitive we are to others’ feelings, our message will be resisted. If they cannot argue with our logic or common sense, then they will result to calling us names. We will be told that we are backward, that we are hateful bigots. Many will even go so far as to say that Jesus would not approve of our message or that we are acting more like the Pharisees than His disciples. We might even start to question ourselves, wondering whether we just have not found the right way to present the good news to our culture and whether it would be better to stay quiet, keep to ourselves and not share our beliefs with others.
However, Jesus makes it very clear that we can expect to be rejected for choosing to follow Him. No one was holier than He or better at connecting with an audience and yet He still was ridiculed and mocked for what He taught. We see this clearly in today’s gospel. When He tells the crowd that He will give them His Body and Blood as food, they are shocked and disgusted. Many of His own disciples turn their backs on Him.
If there were newspapers in Jesus’ day, imagine what the headlines would have been. They would have said that Jesus had a meltdown or that He had lost His mind. They would have claimed that He was out of touch with Jewish society and culture. They would have speculated that the Jesus movement was in crisis and that many others would soon see Him as a false prophet. What the world says about Christians today is no different from what people said about Jesus.
Jesus’ message is demanding. It requires that we radically change the way we look at life and at the world. It calls for sacrifice and surrender to God’s will. Because it is difficult, we may be able to understand why so many people reject it. But why do so many people still believe and still follow Jesus? Why does He continue to be the most influential person who ever lived?
Saint Peter speaks for us at the end of today’s gospel passage when he says, “Master, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and are convinced that you are the Holy One of God.” We accept the difficulties entailed in living the gospel message and the ridicule and rejection that are a part of the Christian life because only Jesus has the words of everlasting life. We have not been able to find the love, joy and peace that our hearts yearn for in any other person than in Jesus Christ. Only in Him have we found the truth and meaning our minds have searched for. And we want to share that joy and truth with others even if it means being rejected by them. As we read in today’s Responsorial Psalm, we have tasted and seen the goodness of the Lord and His praise shall be ever in our mouths.
Throughout the centuries, Christians have been persecuted for one reason or another. The first followers of Jesus were put to death for not worshiping the Roman gods. In the last century, many Christians were killed for resisting dictators and oppressive political systems. In our day, the persecution comes from Western culture which rejects the dignity of human persons, especially the weakest and least productive. It denies the sanctity of marriage as God created it between one man and one woman as Saint Paul so beautifully describes it for us in today’s second reading. It makes no room for immigrants and refugees except to exploit and scapegoat them. This is the world to which God has called us to bring the gospel message of love.
With all the difficulties we face, we can be tempted to turn away, to keep to ourselves and to hide. We do not want to be called names or be accused of offending anyone. However, there are many people out there who are hurting and lost. They deserve to be told the good news of salvation in Jesus Christ. There are so many who are the victims of this society’s twisted ideologies. They are the children who are neglected and abandoned by their parents. They are the immigrants and refugees who live in the shadows and are subject to exploitation and crime on a daily basis. They are those who have just not been able to gain a foothold in a competitive marketplace. They deserve our love and compassion. Just as important, we need to be their voice and to tell their stories.
We also have a duty to the culture at large to show them that there is a better way. We have been entrusted with a great treasure, namely, the truth of the gospel message as it has been handed down to the Church through the centuries. It is the only way for our world to find true and lasting justice and peace. Just as we would not deny a hungry person a morsel of food or not give a blanket to a homeless person, just so we cannot deny our world the truth about Jesus Christ and His message about the incomparable dignity of each and every human being. We have to strive with all our strength to pass that message on, even when it is rejected, in hopes that it will finally sink in and make a difference in a world that has grown tired and cynical.
The great Catholic communicator, Fulton Sheen, said it best: “The world today is tearing up the photographs of a good society, a good family, a happy, individual personal life. But the Church is keeping the negatives. And when the moment comes when the world wants a reprint, we will have them." Each of us needs to be an example of the joy and peace that comes from believing in Jesus. Each of us needs to be a light to a world that has too long been imprisoned in darkness. By doing so, we show the world that there is a better way. By doing so, we point others to Jesus who has the words of everlasting life so that they too can be convinced and join us in sharing the gospel until our world is transformed through the love of God.