Danish philosopher, Soren Kierkegaard once said that the Bible “is very easy to understand. But we …. pretend to be unable to understand it because we know very well that the minute we understand, we are obliged to act accordingly.” There is one thing worse than ignorance, and that is when we pretend not to grasp what is obvious or turn a blind eye to an objective principle (culpable ignorance).
The aim is usually to avoid the moral imperatives implied by such realities. The experience of Jesus with his townsfolk in today’s Gospel illustrates this point. The people did not reject him because of anything wrong with his teachings or actions, but they resorted to“argumentum ad hominem” – arguing against the man. This tactic normally involves insulting or belittling one’s opponent to undermine his/her position.Having found Jesus’ teachings undisputable and his miracles undeniable, his opponents, motivated by envy and the unwillingness to repent, chose to attack his family background. It was the only way they could continue to live in their state of denial instead of responding to the message of life that Jesus brought them.
This sort of rejection and hostility towards the truth did not start with the Lord; it goes back to the very beginnings of the prophetic ministry. In the Old Testament, the prophets were harassed and persecuted because the people found their message discomfiting. Queen Jezebel killed several prophets during the time of Elijah (I Kings 18:4, 13; 19:14). Zechariah was stoned to death on the orders of King Joash (2 Chron. 24:21). And under heavy persecution and threat to his life, Elijah cried out to God: “The Israelites have rejected your covenant, broken down your altars, and put your prophets to death with the sword. I am the only one left, and now they are trying to kill me too” (1 Kings 19:10). But these prophets were not fazed by the persecutions; instead they spoke with greater audacity, because they knew that the Lord was their strength. Thus, Jeremiah was still able to say to the people: “Therefore now amend your ways and your doings and obey the voice of the Lord your God; and the Lord will repent of the evil that he hath pronounced against you” (Jeremiah 26:13).
It is no easier to preach the Gospel today than it was for the Lord and the early Christians. More Christians were martyred in the 20th century than in all the other centuries put together. And there is no sign that this persecution is abating. Recent years have seen vicious attacks against Christians in places like Iraq, Nigeria and Syria. Even in the Western world where there is no serious threat to life, the Church is constantly bombarded by a rabid antichristian and antilife lobby, making use of a well-oiled, sophisticated media campaign. Christianity, the foundation-stone of Western civilization is struggling for its very existence in the Western world.
Consequently, with the barrage of media attacks on the Church and its leadership, Catholics find their faith besieged by forces opposed to God, to the Church, to the sanctity of human life, and to the traditional family values that we cherish so much. It is not uncommon today to be ridiculed on account of being open to life and having a large family or disciplining one’s children in the traditional way. How many people today are too shy or embarrassed to bless their food in public, and how many have lapsed in their faith because society has made it seem obsolete or “uncool”? How many of us at Mass today have a spouse, a child, a sibling, a parent or a friend that has stopped going to church?
At the personal level, the effects of sinful rebellion and arrogant presumption are the same in every generation. Many people, failing to keep their marital or religious vows, would rather blame the Church for being too “strict” or “insensitive” to modern life. When students are too lazy to do their homework, they blame the teachers. When people can’t keep the traffic rules they blame the government or the police. When governments fail to deliver on their promises they blame the opposition. It does not matter the area of life, it is the same principles at work. People would rather pass the buck or shut out the voice of reason than acknowledge their failings and amend their ways.
But it’s not all over yet! Jesus’ promise to be with the Church for all ages still stands. We must not lose heart or think it’s not worth it hanging in there. Jesus says: “Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake. Rejoice, and be exceedingly glad: for great is your reward in heaven: for so they persecuted the prophets which were before you (Matthew 5: 11, 12). As people of faith, we must rest assured that the Lord will vindicate his people in the end. As Scripture says: “You will be hated on account of my name but not a hair of your head will be lost. Your endurance will win you your lives” (Luke 21:17-19). The rejection at Capernaum did not stop Jesus from carrying on with his mission, it only meant that the people there denied themselves the full benefits of his salvific presence.
Therefore, when we feel like giving up, thinking it’s no longer worth it, let us remember that it happened to Jesus too, and he says: “If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first” (John 15:18). We must persevere to the very end for, in the end, it will not matter when, where, or how we die; what will matter in the end is what we die for. Let Jesus be our reason!
May the Lord help us to stay on the message of the Gospel and not give in to the threats of the enemy! Amen!