This is a Hard Saying — Who Can Listen To It?

Our Lord never sugarcoated his message to make it more agreeable.

On the Sea of Tiberias, Jesus announced, “Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you.” The crowds were offended. In their murmuring, they tried to shout him down and silence him. Seeing their offense, Jesus backed down, saying meekly, “I am sorry you feel that way. I apologize for inflicting you with traumatic microaggressions. My words were triggering and prompted reflection on my part to be better. I meant it as a metaphor and went too far. In the future, I will be more aware of your sensitivities.” In a public statement, he posted that he would consult with his twelve apostles to vet his statements for anything remotely offensive.

This is how Our Lord’s discourse in John 6 would happen in our “woke” times. It would lead to a different theology, which would lead to a different Church. But that is not how it happened. Our culture now censors anything deemed discomfiting or offensive. However, the Bible shows, in numerous examples, the better way.

In the real John 6, Our Lord knows his words are disturbing. He doubles down when faced with opposition, not reformulating or apologizing. What is notable is the crowd’s reaction, a contrast with the calls for “cancelation” we see today. The crowd, rather than shouting Our Lord down, simply walks away. On both sides, we see a different reaction than would happen today: the mob merely walks away. Jesus (the offensive speaker) turns to his closest followers and asks if they would do the same. He doesn’t say that he was misunderstood, nor does he reframe his message to be more welcome. Instead, he asks, “Will you walk away too?” The problem, as he sees it, is not with his message, but his listeners.

Our Lord never sugarcoated his message to make it more agreeable. Our Lord did exactly the opposite. He bluntly said (Matthew 10:34), “Do not think that I have come to bring peace on earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.” He knew his Gospel would cause division.  His followers would have to make the painful choice between the status quo and him.

When Jesus condemns divorce and remarriage, his astonished disciples respond (Matthew 19:10), “If such is the case of a man with his wife, it is not expedient to marry.” Our Lord’s response is to uphold his teaching on marriage, and to further say that the problem lies in their understanding of the Law. There is no ‘canceling’ for this ‘hard teaching’, nor is there more than befuddlement from the disciples and the crowd.

In another episode farther on in his gospel, the Pharisees attempt to entrap Our Lord in the subject of government and religion (Matthew 22:22). They try to make Jesus choose between God and Caesar. However, Our Lord is aware of the malice behind the seemingly innocent question (Matthew 22:18). The Pharisees walk away in response; Our Lord does not change his message to win them back.

Again, the Pharisees try to entrap Jesus with a woman caught in adultery (John 8:3-6). Our Lord’s first response is silence (John 8:6), but then he says that whoever is sinless should cast the first stone (John 8:7). Again, everyone drops their stones and walks away (John 8:9). Jesus tells the woman he does not condemn her, but to sin no more (John 8:11). He does not excuse or dismiss her behavior, instead calling her to conversion.

Our Lord did not make Himself “likable” to his Apostles either. Before his Passion, Jesus “began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and the chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again. And he said this plainly” (Mark 8:31). St. Peter attempts to silence Jesus for his odd message but is rebuked (Mark 8:33). When Jesus predicts they will all fall away (Mark 14:26), St. Peter insists he will not (Mark 14:29,31).

Like many of the “woke,” he cannot bear hearing the truth. He tries to silence Jesus and get Him to tone it down. But Jesus does not retract his statement in any way, in fact telling Peter that he himself will renounce knowing Him. It is only after his thrice denial of Our Lord that St. Peter comes to his senses (Mark 14:72). Resembling our society today, St. Peter wants an easy, comfortable Gospel. It is with Our Lord’s grace he is able to face difficult truths.

Jesus did not apologize for his message. He commanded his Apostles to spread the Gospel, not to water it down to please people. He said to “observe all that I have commanded you” (Matthew 28:20). Jesus commands, not suggests, that all his commandments be obeyed.

Notably, the Pharisees censor themselves to please the people when they question Jesus about his authority (Matthew 21:26); they also do not arrest Him during Passover, lest they anger the people (Matthew 26:25). Instead of fearing God, they fear the mob. Pontius Pilate “washes his hands” (Matthew 27:24) of Jesus’ impending death, because he was “gaining nothing, but rather a riot was beginning” (Matthew 27:24). Pilate fears rioting more than the death of an innocent. Pilate and the Pharisees yield their authority to the crowd, giving their own better judgment over to the mob.

Bowing down to the mob led to Our Lord’s Crucifixion (Luke 23:13-25). As St. Luke notes of the crowd “their voices prevailed” (Luke 23:23). This should tell our current mobs that God sees their actions as irrational and leading to grave injustice. In the current “cancel” culture, Scripture shows the way for dealing with “offensive” views. Rather than censoring them, the crowds simply walk away from a message with which they disagree.

Jesus Christ spoke the truth, because he is the Truth. He did not yield to mass hysteria. As Our Lord said (John 5:41), “I do not receive the glory of men.” Jesus further stated (John 7:18), “He who speaks on his own authority seeks his own glory; but he who seeks the glory of him who sent him is true, and in him there is no falsehood.” Our Lord sought God’s glory — a goal we should all seek.