Just Say No
Fr. Joseph K. Horn
8 February 1998
St Barbara’s Parish
Santa Ana, California
Do you ever have trouble saying “no” to people?
I don’t mean the way a spoiled child says “no”: Can I play with your toy? NYO! It’s MINE! Nor do I mean the way an angry parent says “no”: May I be excused from the table? NO! Just sit there and be quiet! It’s easy to say “no” like that; you just bark it. But we often confuse being a Christian with being a yes-man, with pleasing everybody all the time.
For example, in the first reading today, we hear God saying, “Will anybody volunteer?” and Isaiah replies, “Yes! Here I am, Lord! Send me!” And so we get the mistaken notion that we should always say “yes” to every request.
So I started to wonder: did Jesus ever say “no” to anybody? To find out, I looked through all four Gospels, and found something surprising. Jesus said “no” many times. Of course, he said “no” to the devil three times when he was tempted in the desert. But he also said “no” to people around him.
He said “no” to ordinary human requests. “Let me bury my father before I follow you.” No; let the dead bury their dead. “Tell my sister to help me with the housework.” No; she has chosen the better part. “Tell my brother to be fair with me about our inheritance.” No. “Stay in our town a little longer.” No. And to the Geresene demoniac who said, “Let me follow you,” Jesus said: No, give witness to your people.
Jesus even said “no” to close and loving friends. “Give my sons a special privileged place next to you.” No. “Stop talking about your death like that.” A very strong No to Peter: Get thee behind me, Satan! “Tell us when the last things will occur.” No; it’s not for you to know. “Call down fire from heaven to destroy these Samaritans who have rejected you.” A very strong No!
Jesus even said “no” to the demands of the crowds. “Work a sign for us right here and now.” No. “Do here in your own town the things we heard you did over in Capernaum.” No. “Give us today the bread that you gave us yesterday.” No; I’ll give you bread from heaven. “Oh, who wants bread from heaven? Give us the bread you gave us yesterday!” No.
And Jesus even said no to many common-sense, law-and-order kinds of requests. “Send this crowd away; they’re getting hungry.” No; you feed them. “Keep this crowd quiet.” No; the very rocks would cry out. “Make your followers fast like those of John the Baptist.” No; there’ll be plenty of time for fasting later, but not while the bridegroom is with them. “Surely you have some answer to these accusations against you.” No.
My good friends, we should take Jesus’ example and say “no” whenever someone or something would distract us from God’s loving and saving will. It is for this reason that we say “no” to obvious things like drug abuse and alcohol abuse: they distract us from God’s loving and saving will. But we should also say “no” to people around us whenever they would steer us away from God’s will. We don’t say “no” in a self-righteous or arrogant way. We imitate Jesus, who filled the word “no” with love. May I give you a powerful example of that?
When I was listing, a few moments ago, all the times that Jesus said “no”, I did leave out one instance, and a very important “no” it was. For us as sinful and sometimes fearful followers of Jesus, it is a particularly consoling “no” to remember. It is the “no” that Jesus spoke in today’s Gospel reading.
Remember the story? It was very early in his public ministry. Jesus had visited Simon Peter’s house the day before, and had just finished the miraculous healing of Simon Peter’s mother-in-law and other sick and possessed people. So Simon Peter was already amazed at the holiness of this strange man named Jesus.
And now here he was preaching at the lake shore, and the crowd got so big that he stepped into Simon Peter’s boat and asked him to pull out from the shore a little way. He then taught the crowd from Peter’s barque. Imagine how Peter felt; this holy man chose his boat to preach from!
Then he told Peter to throw the net into the water. Peter said, “We were just fishing all night, and didn’t catch a thing, but if you say so, okay.” And they caught so many fish that it almost sank two boats!
Peter was overwhelmed. He knew then how holy Jesus must be, and he felt awful. Here he is, Simon Peter, just a normal guy, with normal human imperfections and failings, and there, standing right there in front of him, is Jesus, the Son of God! He couldn’t stand it any more. He fell to his knees and cried out in anguish, “Please, please go somewhere else! Depart from me, Lord; I am a sinful man. Go away! Please, just go away! Leave me alone!”
Jesus then looked into Peter’s eyes; into his soul. And with Peter’s whole future hanging in the balance, Jesus very firmly, but tenderly and lovingly, said: “Alone? No. Leave you? No!”