The title to this essay comes from John 6:60, and it is in regards to Jesus telling his disciples that they must eat His flesh and drink His blood to have eternal life. Many left him over the doctrine of the Eucharist, apparently not understanding His words of spirit and life in John 6:63 (spirit and life = sacramental reality, not cannibalism or symbolism). But there are many other hard sayings in sacred scripture. As Catholics, we are not only supposed to know them, but to do them as well. Let’s take a look at some other hard sayings.
One of the toughest is found in Luke 6:27-28:
“But to you who hear I say, love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.”
Most of us know this scripture, but when push comes to shove, do we really love our enemies? For most of us, I think this is a struggle. What person who has been wronged financially would even think about “loving” the person who took his money under false pretenses? Who could “love” their rapist, or love the person who killed their child? These are extreme circumstances, for sure, but the words of Christ still apply. Some people, like yours truly (ahem!), occasionally do slow burns when wronged, or worse, tongue-lash my enemies when talking to my friends. On the other hand, I’ve actually had people tell me about someone who did them dirty, “I will never forget what he did, and I will never forgive him.” Talk like that is our very own personal testimony about preferring hell to heaven. Like we say in the “Our Father,” we will be forgiven for our trespasses AS we forgive those who trespass against us.
So how to overcome this personality failure? Make it a specific duty each and every day to say prayers for our enemies, by name. Love is wanting the best for everyone, even if we are not the ones who can provide the best, due to extenuating circumstances. God can, and will, provide the best for our enemies, through our sincere prayers. Over time, God can soften even the hardest heart to forgive. The goal of life is to get into heaven, after all, not to carry grudges for decades.
Matthew 19:21 concerns the advice from Jesus to the rich young man who claimed to have obeyed all of the commandments:
Jesus said to him, “If you wish to be perfect, go, sell what you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”
Now, for sure, this is what we must do IF we wish to be perfect and to follow Christ as His apostles did. Most of us will not become Catholic priests or nuns who take a vow of poverty in order to follow Christ. But the larger questions that all of us must answer do concern our material possessions. Do we own them, or do they own us?
The answer, of course, is to live as simply as possible, where material goods do not tie us down to this world, but instead give us the ability to live debt-free, and to also have the wherewithal to give to the poor. The only things we take with us to our face-to-face meeting with Jesus post-mortem are our faith and our good works. The Israelites had to sacrifice animals because they used to treat them as gods; similarly, by giving our money to the poor we are saying that mammon is not our god either.
Insults and Cloaks
Another hard saying from the Bible is from Luke 6:29 :
“To the person who strikes you on one cheek, offer the other one as well, and from the person who takes your cloak, do not withhold even your tunic.”
This is a tough one to obey. Striking someone on the cheek was the way to insult someone back then. The natural reaction from just about any human on the planet when insulted is to insult back, and to also make sure that no one steals your coat. But that is the opposite of what Jesus said to do, who was insulted many times, who did not insult back (Isaiah 53:7), and who also had his cloak taken from him by the jeering Romans at the cross.
The biblical way of lending money is also confusing to us modern-day lovers of money. Luke 6:34 says:
“If you lend money to those from whom you expect repayment, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, and get back the same amount.”
The Bible says in 1 Timothy 6:10 that “the love of money is the root of all evil,” and when it comes to lending our hard earned cash to relatives or friends, sometimes, we do not get paid back. Where we would see this a disaster, the Bible says that that is exactly what we should do!
Jesus Comes Before Family
Matthew 10:37 says:
“He who loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; and he who loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; “
Here Scripture tells us that we must love Jesus more than anyone else, including our close family. How many of us really do this?
But to me, the toughest saying of all is that if we wish to be glorified with Christ in heaven, we first have to suffer with Him, in Romans 8:17:
“and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ, if only we suffer with him so that we may also be glorified with him.”
This jives with what St. Peter said in 1 Peter 4:13:
“But rejoice to the extent that you share in the sufferings of Christ, so that when his glory is revealed you may also rejoice exultantly.”
Personally, I hate to suffer. I much prefer joy and pleasure. But if we want heaven, then suffering with Christ is our ticket to get in. If I had to guess, this is why bad things happen to good people, and why there is so much suffering in the world. God really wants us to be happy with Him in the next life, so he gives us suffering in this life to accomplish that goal. God always chastises those whom He loves!
Skin in the Game
So many people think that it is natural to give in to sin, saying, “I’m only human,” or, “I’m as human as the next person.” While those cutesy excuses may make one feel good about personal sin, real Catholics should take the opposite approach, and pray to never, ever give in to human nature and sin. After all, Catholics shouldn’t just be fans of Jesus Christ, cheering Him on from the sidelines while ignoring His commands. Rather, we should all be players on the Catholic field with Christ, suffering, doing for others, praying, going to Mass, overcoming (NOT giving into) our human nature, imitating the saints, etc.
Being an out-of-shape fan of a sport is never, ever like being an actual toughened player on the field. Being a player in the battle for our very own souls, and others as well, is what we are all called to do, by Christ. It’s never enough to say that Christ did it all for us, and all we therefore have to do is to intellectually “believe” in Him. We must feed the hungry, clothe the naked, visit the sick and prisoners, etc., like it says in Matthew 25:31-46, or else we will not get into heaven, period. Why? Because “"Not everyone who says to me, `Lord, Lord,' shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who DOES the will of my Father who is in heaven.” (Matthew 7:21).
Our Decision Now and Eternity
So while it may be tough to live up to God’s hard requirements now, just imagine how hard it will be later on, to endure this hard saying from God, from Matthew 25:41:
“Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you accursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.”