Discipleship is Hard
One job that I would never want to have is White House Spokesperson – or a spokesperson for anyone, for that matter. I listen often to the White House press briefing, wherein the president’s spokesman, Josh Earnest, fields questions from reporters, and it seems that every day he is spinning or back-pedaling or explaining this or that issue that people either misunderstand or are trying to clarify to the point of nailing the president down on an issue. Reporters do this all the time: they grill politicians or public figures about something that they said or did in an effort to ask that one question that will “nail” them – the “gotcha” question that will result in a blubbering response that might just water down what a person had said to begin with.
It’s one of the reasons that people are so enamored of Donald Trump, since he won’t apologize or spin or back off of his position on an issue. Now, I have no desire to promote any one candidate, so don’t take me wrong here. The only point I want to make is that people are often being assaulted on their opinions in order to test their true resolve on an issue like immigration, abortion, taxes, or whether Beyonce’s latest outfit is appropriate. “You don’t really mean to say X, Y, or Z, do you?”
And when someone backs off their own stance on something, then they appear wishy-washy and somehow weaker. It’s tough to find someone who actually says what they believe and mean, rather than what they think people want to hear.
That’s one of the unique things about Jesus. He never backs off of His teaching – even when people ask Him to clarify, or even to soften it so it is more palatable. So, we find Him in the position He is today: disillusioned disciples walking away from Him. Last week, when people were asking Him if He really meant that He wanted people to “eat” His Flesh, He had the chance to nuance that teaching. Rather than back-pedal, Jesus doubles down – using words like, “Unless you chew/gnaw on my flesh – and drink my Blood – you cannot have life!”
Jesus always said what He meant, and He meant what He said. He taught with authority and made no illusions about what He wanted from His disciples. There was no fooling involved – no trickery or misleading rhetoric. He said it; He meant it; He did it.
“This saying is too hard,” Jesus’ disciples said, “who can accept it?” And they left, rather than trust Jesus and continue to follow.
This raises the question for us – because Jesus even offers His Apostles the choice: What do we do with difficult teachings from Jesus and the Church? How do we reconcile our lives and Jesus’ Word?
Our Second Reading today gives us the biting teaching of “Wives should be subordinate to their husbands as to the Lord. For the husband is head of his wife.” And, yes, I saw some guys poking their wives (good luck going home, guys!). Don’t forget that Paul also says, “Husbands, love your wives,” however, the damage is done: subordinate? What are we to do with that? Ignore the Word of God?
No. However, we are called to understand it properly. This teaching is actually not about submission or domination of one to the other. Rather, Paul provides the key to understanding at the outset: “Be subordinate to one another out of reverence for Christ.” Jesus is the key. This reading is less about marriage as personal fulfillment or domination than it is about the Sacrament that mirrors the very love of Christ. In other words, we must strive to put on the mind of Christ in order to wrestle properly with His teaching. What does Jesus mean?
There are many teachings of the Church that are hard – difficult to teach and to follow. For me, it is hard to teach on the Sacrament of Marriage as between one man and one woman when I have gay friends, or when you have gay children. It is hard to uphold the absolute sanctity of human life in the womb when people throw all sorts of objections at us like, “What about rape or incest, or the health of the mother?” or “What if it were your sister?” It’s hard to continue to push for the value of marriage vows in the face of such high divorce rates.
It’s hard to follow Jesus, and it’s hard to be Christians!
The only way we can remain strong in this faith is to take on the mind of Jesus – to see with His eyes. This is why He sees it as so important to actually give us His Body and Blood here at Mass. Rather than ignore a teaching as if we know better than Jesus, or rather than walk away (as so many of our own friends and family members might have done), if we put on the attitude and eyes of Jesus, we will find that we grow in humility and faith. Certainly, we will continue to struggle – I know I do from time to time – but, we will also be able to civilly dialogue in faith, and we will treat others with the dignity that is theirs, regardless of how they are living or agreeing with us.
The Apostles recognized that going away meant going away from Christ. This was simply not acceptable. As Peter says, so we too are called to say, “To whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.” As we share this Bread of Life, we are taking Jesus at His word. And that is the Word that is Spirit and life. The gifts of faithfulness bear fruit in a world that grows in love through the mind of Jesus.