Jun 24, 2017

12th Sunday in Ordinary Time: "Do not be afraid"

"Fear no one . . . speak in the light . . . proclaim on the housetops."

Jer 20: 10-13
Rom 5: 12-13
Mt 10: 26-33

When I was around 6th grade my younger brother and I loved to watch a television show entitled "The Twilight Zone"which was popular in the late 1950's and early 60's and still plays today in eternal reruns.  The show presented some pretty fanciful  science and psychological thrillers that seemed real enough, at least to the mind of a 9 or 10 year old boy, which created a strange sense of foreboding. It played with your imagination with wild scenarios which appeared on the verge of possibility. I would have an odd desire to be frightened yet was also intrigued by the possibility that outer space aliens might really come to earth and dupe us into being food for them through their alleged benevolence for humanity. So I was fearful yet also attracted by the possibility that such things may actually happen. Not sure what I would have done if they did. Probably run and hide under the covers!     

Looking back of course on such ungrounded fears they seem a bit silly. Obviously, I eventually got over this and barely even think about it today. Science fiction is fiction.  Yet, fear in far more exaggerated forms with far better reasons, such as a real threat to life and safety, are very grounded in the experience of many.  Instilling fear seems to be a tactic of various dangerous groups around the world these days and just listening to the news can create much concern for any of us. 

In our readings this weekend, despite the fact that three times in the Gospel we hear Jesus say: “Do not be afraid,” we hear a message of both hope and comfort at the same time. Still, three times in the Gospel Jesus tells us: “Do not fear” so there must be something to be afraid of? It might feel the same as if a parent said to their child waiting in the doctor’s reception area: “Now don’t be afraid!” Yikes! 

In our first reading, the prophet Jeremiah comes across as the most revealing of the Old Testament prophets.  He honestly shares his real anxiety with his readers: “I hear the whispers of many; terror on every side! . . . we can prevail and take vengeance upon him.” This is not the lament of a paranoid prophet but the real experience of rejection and misunderstanding this great prophet of the Babylonian exile shared intimately in his writings. 

Soon, though, Jeremiah turns it around in an inspiring response to the fear he experiences: “But the LORD is with me like a mighty champion . . . praise the LORD, for he has rescued the life of the poor . . .” Even though Jeremiah found the vocation of a prophet to be deeply challenging, he knew that good was on his side and God would be his rescuer in spite of what may have seemed insurmountable odds.  The point of Jeremiah’s honest sharing is that he never lost hope in the protection that God promised and neither should we.

We move to the Gospel and find ourselves in the middle of Matthew chapter 10 which offers the advice of Jesus to the 12 disciples he had sent out on mission.  While there may be some glamour in representing the ministry of this great prophet of God whose teaching and power was by this time evident, our Lord well knew what and where his disciples would encounter opposition.  Earlier Jesus told them, “I am sending you like sheep in the midst of wolves.”  (Mt 10: 16).  If these men had any na├»ve expectations they would be welcomed with open arms with the message of the good news, this statement alone would have squelched their enthusiasm.

Yet, this reality check by our Lord uncovers the necessity for the Gospel message of hope.  Our Gospel passage today is far more filled with encouragement than it is with foreboding. Jesus encourages his disciples to share the good news openly, to speak in “the light” of day for all to know.  No secrets, nothing hidden.  They are not being sent with a “good bye and good luck” attitude but rather the confidence of knowing that in spite of the hard times of rejection ahead, their loyalty to Christ and the power of the message they carry will prevail.  Jesus will remain with them so do not be afraid.  God knows everything intimately so have confidence since your worth is far more to God than any living thing. 

So it is with some fears we have.  We simply grow out of them or overcome them in time.  If we fear too much, it may indicate that we lack faith.  If we find ourselves always worried about out welfare, our health, our safety then we need to confront those fears and judge how grounded they may or may not be. 

Knowing how much we are valued by the God who created us, as Jesus reassures us today, we are called to embrace the message of the Gospel he has entrusted to us since our own baptism.  Pope Francis reminded us that we are “missionary disciples” sent out to change the world around us.  That may seem like a tall order and indeed it is for us since he world is either indifferent, hostile, politely dismissive, yet also hungry for a deeper sense of meaning and purpose.

So, as the disciples by now had developed a closer relationship with Jesus, coming to know him more intimately, hearing of his message and a witness to his wonder works, so too are we reminded that we have heard the same, albeit in the Gospel stories, but also in our personal lives.

We have all had moments when we felt we were saved from danger, or met someone who became a personal help in times of need, or witnessed prayer answered and worries transformed to gratitude.  Confronted with a tough situation or a great disappointment we hung in there and through prayer and trust we knew that God prevailed in our lives. There were probably also moments where we recognized that we just worry too much and trust very little. 

In the end, maybe taking to heart the promise of Jesus today to his disciples about letting go of their worry would do us well to reflect more on our lack of faith or may indicate to us that it is time we do something about the ungrounded fears we carry. 

The message of the Gospel is one of joy not fear; of hope and not despair.  Jesus brought “good news” and became the “light of the world” in order to help us overcome the dark concerns we may carry. 

There is no magic in the grace of God and sometimes we are called to carry that cross patiently as we are strengthened in faith in times of testing.  But in the end our Lord reminds us as well, “do not fear.”  If we remain his loyal disciples we have confidence that we will not be overcome.

The Eucharist comes to us as a sign of God’s enduring love; as food for our journey in a broken world.  As Pope Francis also said, it isn’t food for the perfect but for sinners.  Through the Church we can find healing and reconciliation, the support of a community of other imperfect believers, and the grace necessary to walk without a fear that would paralyze us.   

Grant, O Lord, 
that we may always revere and love your holy name, 
for you never deprive of your guidance
those you set firm on the foundation of your love. 
through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, 
who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, 
one God, for ever and ever. 

(Collect of Mass)