Some time ago, when I was Carbondale, IL, the Newman Center at Southern Illinois University presented a program called “Fools for Christ.” It was a traveling production, and the performers were all young people. They had on clown make-up and sang songs and acted out skits about Jesus and living out one’s faith. The implication was that if one were to live out his or her faith, she or he would most likely be looked upon as a fool, according to the wisdom of the world. And the challenge was whether one would be willing to be seen as a fool by being Christian.
I thought about this as I was reflecting on today’s Gospel reading. Our reading is at the end of the “Bread of Life” discourse in John’s Gospel. As was noted last week, there were people who were disturbed by Jesus’ words about giving His flesh to eat for the life of the world. And so, in today’s reading, the people who found Jesus’ words too difficult decided to return “to their former way of life and no longer accompanied him.”
I think what happens sometimes with us Christians is that we can find ourselves going in and out of accompanying Jesus, depending on whether we accept or not accept the words that He says. In the Gospel reading, the saying that is “hard” is “and the bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world.” For us, the saying that may be too hard is “Forgive seventy-seven times;” or “Love your enemies;” or “Turn the other cheek;” or “Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me;” or “When you have done all that you have been commanded, say ‘We are unprofitable servants; we have done what we were obliged to do.’”
Do we choose not to accompany Jesus at those times when His sayings are too hard to accept, or when we’re afraid to look like fools? But if we accept Jesus as the “Bread of Life” for us, we find, along with St. Peter and the Twelve, that Jesus’ words, as difficult or foolish as they seem, are actually “the words of eternal life.” Practicing giving and forgiving, love and sacrifice, rather than selfishness and fear and hatred is what leads to life! May we be fools for Christ! May we be fools for life!
Fr. Phil Paxton, C.P. is on staff at St. Paul of the Cross Retreat and Conference Center, Detroit, Michigan.