When People Ridicule You and Oppose You
Friday April 2, 2004 Homily by Fr. Robert Altier Fifth Week of Lent
Reading (Jeremiah 20:10-13) Gospel (St. John 10:31-42)
In the beginning of the first reading from the Book of the Prophet Jeremiah, the prophet, recognizing that the people had been hatching plots against him, says, “I hear the whisperings of many: ‘Terror on every side! Denounce! Let us denounce him!’” It is a sad thing in this world that if you want to do what is good and right, you are going to be opposed. Now what happens is that a lot of people get very frustrated with this because they of course recognize within their own intentions that they had only good in their heart – they were not intending anything that was negative – and therefore they do not understand why people do not like what they are doing. The reason is severalfold: first of all, because there are some for whom, if you are going to do what is right, you stand as a censure to their conscience because they do not want to do what is right; number two, there are lots of people who are jealous and envious because they want to be able to do what you are trying to do, but for whatever reason they will not do it or they cannot do it, and therefore in their jealousy they like to gossip and tear people down and cause all kinds of problems for people; and third, it is because if you are going to do what is right, God is going to allow you to be purified.
That is the reason we really need to look at because God will allow these other people to do whatever it is they are going to do, but as the prophet says that he has entrusted his cause to the Lord and therefore the Lord is going to free him, that is exactly what happens every single time. However, the way the Lord frees a person is not necessarily the way that one would think it ought to happen. God allows all of these things in order to purify us, to strengthen us, to really look at the whole question of what we are doing and why, because when people start speaking against us, our natural inclination is first to defend ourselves, and if it continues on, then what tends to happen is most people just give up. They figure, “If this is what happens when you do what’s right and good, then I’m not going to do it anymore.” And that is precisely what the Lord wanted to find out if we were going to do. Not that the Lord needed to know, but the problem is that in our own selves we tend to think we are very strong. We tend to think that we have everything pretty much in control and that we are, of course, exceedingly faithful to God – until things get difficult. And then we find out just how faithful we really are, or are not, as the case may be; because when the difficulties come, the saints continue to move forward, but the rest of us, we tend to give up. We tend to get frustrated and we think, “If this is the way that it’s going to be, then I’m just going to stop doing this.”
But that is not the way Jesus operated. When they opposed Him, He continued to move forward. The prophets had to do the exact same thing. If you look in the Old Testament, there is not one single prophet whom the people liked. Of course, after the fact they all thought that they were great. But, in the meantime, while they were alive, the people hated them and ultimately put every last one of them to death because they spoke the truth but the people did not want to hear. So they did not back off. They did not stop just because their message was opposed. Remember, God told Jeremiah that was going to happen. He sent Jeremiah to speak and said, “They will not listen to Me, and they will not listen to you either; but go and speak the word anyway.”
So it is a question of the obedience and the perseverance and the charity and all the other virtues that we have to look at within ourselves. Why are we doing what we are doing? If we are doing it for God, then it does not matter if people oppose us. If we are doing it for some form of human respect, then we are going to get frustrated when people do not like what we are doing and when they oppose us in whatever way. If there is anything of the self in what we are doing, we are going to give up rather easily because it is not going the way that we think it ought to go. Once again, we need to keep our focus on the Lord. As Jesus pointed out in the Gospel reading today, He asked the people, “For which of the good works do you want to stone Me?” The people really did not have a decent answer; all they could say was “It’s because of blasphemy.” Well, if you stood up and said to somebody, “I’m trying to do the work of God, why do you want to kill me? Why are you opposed to me? Why are you ridiculing me?” they will ridicule you even more. It is the same thing they did to the Lord.
But Jesus tells us that when that happens we have to rejoice and be glad. He did not say, “Give up.” He didn’t say, “Quit doing what is right and good and preaching the truth because people don’t like it.” He said, “Rejoice and be glad because that’s the way the prophets were treated.” That is the way He was treated, and if we are going to follow Him, it is the way we are going to be treated. It is not an easy message to listen to, but a necessary one, because for those who want to do what is right this is the means by which we grow in virtue. This is the means by which we become humble and obedient. And it is the means by which we are stripped of self so that we can do only the work of God.
* This text was transcribed from the audio recording of a homily by Father Robert Altier with minimal editing.