3rd Sunday of Easter Year C:
We gave you strict orders, did we not, to stop speaking in that name. The stakes were high. The apostles were given strict orders. They knew what they were up against. By now they were already starting to feel the effects of this pressure. They had been harassed and imprisoned; soon they will start getting flogged, abused, attacked, and even killed. They are certainly becoming more and more unpopular. Why not just go with the flow? Why not just adapt their message to their modern audience? Why not just conduct a poll to see what ideas are current, what are they trying to do?
The apostles would have made terrible politicians. I’m sure none of them would have been able to be elected to any office or political position. The apostles stubbornly refused to compromise, refused to back down. They laughed in the face of pressure and oppression. And their response today is so telling: We must obey God rather than men.
Either the Apostles were wise, virtuous, inspired disciples of Jesus Christ, willing to offer their lives in witness to the God made man. Or they were foolish, silly followers of a traveling preacher, all of whom end up dying because they refused to get with the times. Our opinion of the Apostles rises and falls with the truth of the faith. If Jesus Christ is really God made man, if he really came to set us free, if he really rose from the dead and is sitting at the right hand of the Father, if we are really united to him by baptism, and if we will really participate in eternal life by following him, then the apostles are amazing examples, saints worthy of emulation and exaltation. But, if Jesus was just some guy, just some teacher, if Jesus is not what he said he was, then the apostles were fools. They should have simply caved in and yielded to the pressures they faced. But, they didn’t. They refused. They were stubborn, almost every one of them gladly died rather than to cave in to the pressures of the majority around them.
What about us? Obviously we must have accepted the truth of the gospel or else we wouldn’t be here. How do we respond to pressure? How do we respond to persecution? Are we willing to suffer and to die rather than deny the truth?
There is a profound crisis of truth in our modern world. No longer do people see the truth as something objective, something received. Rather, many people see the truth as something personal, something subjective, something each one of us gets to create. What is true for me is not true for you. I have to say I ranged between slightly amused to kind of annoyed during the election of the pope. Many of the media types were saying that perhaps a new pope would set about changing a bunch of things in the church. Now, it is certainly the case that Pope Francis will make a number of changes, but he will certainly not change the essentials of the faith; because the faith is not made up, it is not subject to opinion polls or the whim of the majority. I always find it fascinating when people say: I know the church teaches x, but I just don’t believe that. The apostles would have been baffled by this kind of thinking. They did not invent the gospel, they did not invent the resurrection. They were witnesses of the resurrection and they accepted the gospel as being true. They gladly suffered persecution, even to the point of death, because they could not deny this truth. Amazing!
No wonder we admire the apostles. They are Christian superheroes. And if we want to be like them we need to rely on the same source of strength that they did. Simon, son of John, do you love me? It has to be our relationship with Christ that gives us the strength to endure persecution, to overcome societal pressure, to be stouthearted disciples of Jesus who would rather die than to deny the truth of our faith. What a privilege it is for us then to gather here at Mass and to hear the voice of Christ speak to each one of us again: do you love me? Feed my sheep.