Our Father Abraham declared to the chosen people: If they will not listen to Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded even if someone should rise from the dead.
In no less than five books of the Old Testament, God’s chosen people are referred to as “a stiff-necked people,” too stubborn to receive and follow God’s commands. Indeed in Acts 7:51, St. Stephen, first Christian martyr, uses the same expression in his discourse to those about to stone him to death. Given the human condition, no surprise, really, that being “stiff-necked” or unwilling to listen to “even one who has risen from the dead” managed to traverse both the Old and New Testaments.
What is more, Jesus uses the example of a rich man and a servant, Lazarus, to make his point: His disciples will give priority to the poor and therefore store up lasting treasure in heaven.
Here we are at church celebrating the Holy Eucharist. I would imagine that we would not immediately judge ourselves to be deaf to Jesus—a stiff-necked people. And yet, I would say that many of us could stop and think about the teachings of the Church and come up with some to which we are pretty much deaf. We tend to settle into our vantage points in life and do not want to hear that our thinking and, perhaps, our practice is squarely opposite to the Gospel and to what the Church teaches.
One could easily claim that he or she is a person of principles. Well, there are principles and then there are principles. Some may hold human laws high—even sacrosanct. But what happens when man-made law is in conflict with what Jesus commands? Can we think of any cases today in which human law puts a Christian between “a rock and a hard place”? When we declare self confidently, “The law is the law!” Whose law are we talking about?
I just know that “stiff-neck syndrome” is far too prevalent and that it invariably leads to trouble and problems; it often is the cause of the break up of relationships, certainly the cause of some divorces. We should also be aware of revealing choices of vocabulary that we may use to describe others, or that might be used to describe us. For instance the words stubborn, insistent, and intransigent come to mind as red flag words. If the words refer, for example, to our upholding truth and justice, that’s one thing; if they refer to our unwillingness to admit that hoarding animals is a sick thing to do, or that we are in denial about enabling an addict, that is quite another.
In the meantime, let us attend to this caution of Jesus about being stiff-necked—especially if someone has gone to all the trouble of rising from the dead just to steer us in the right direction.