DO NOT BE AFRAID!
Jer 20:10-13; Rom 5:12-15; Matt 10:26-33
We read today’s Gospel in the context of last week’s Gospel (11th Sunday of Year A) in which Jesus sent the twelve disciples to proclaim the kingdom of heaven. In between last week’s reading and today’s reading, Jesus predicts that the disciples will face difficulties in their mission (cf. Mt 10:5-25). The values of the Kingdom are different from the values of the world, so much so that people will reject the message and turn against the messengers. Many people will NOT receive them well, even within the land of Israel. Even family members will turn away from them because of the disciple’s commitment to Jesus and the kingdom. Today’s Gospel offers the disciples consolation against this difficult truth. It alludes to the dangers and persecutions that the disciples have most likely already faced and will continue to face. In the face of all these adversities, Jesus tells them: “Do not be afraid!”
- THE REALITY OF FEAR IN OUR LIVES
Fear is a common problem from which none of us is immune. According to medical experts, 90 percent of the chronic patients who see today’s physicians have one common symptom – fear. Psychologists also reports that 90 percent of the things we normally fear never really happen. A further 9 percent is often made to happen by ourselves. Like for instance, a person who has a deep fear of failure (conscious or unconscious) may get him/herself so anxious about failing that he/she makes him/herself to fail.
We all have fears. We fear many things for no reason. We do not fear some things that we should. But we all have our fears. Psychologists list over 100 types of fear. Here are a few:
- Altophobia: Fear of heights.
- Arachnophobia: Fear of spiders.
- Claustrophobia: Fear of confined spaces.
- Ecclesiophobia: Fear of church.
- Frigophobia: Fear of cold.
- Gamophobia: Fear of marriage.
- Glossophobia: Fear of speaking in public or of trying to speak.
- Homilophobia: Fear of sermons.
- Obesophobia: Fear of gaining weight.
- Panophobia: Fear of everything.
- Phasmophobia: Fear of ghosts.
- Testophobia: Fear of taking tests.
- Xenophobia: Fear of strangers or foreigners.
In today’s gospel, Jesus repeats the words: “Do not be afraid,” for three times. The words, “Do not be afraid,” occur in the Bible more than 365 times. Given that in a year, there are 365 days, it means that God reminds and assures us every single day of the year not to be afraid and more. In this Gospel passage, Jesus puts suffering in perspective. The disciples of Jesus are called upon to keep their focus on God. The gospel identifies three fears that the apostles commonly had: fear of false accusation and conviction, and fear of bodily harm and fear of death. In these cases, Jesus teaches them that the way to overcome the fear is by keeping one’s mind focused not on the here-and-now but on the coming kingdom of God. Next, Jesus clearly underlines what they should be actually afraid of.
- WHEN NOT TO FEAR
- a) The first reason we should not fear is because antagonism, threats, and intimidation do not surprise us. It is part of the package for any disciple of Jesus. Listen to what Jesus says in the verses that precede the gospel text of today: “A disciple is not above his teacher, nor a servant above his master. It is enough for the disciple to be like his teacher, and the servant like his master. If they have called the master of the house Beelzebul, how much more will they malign those of his household” (Mt 10:24-25). Jesus reminds us that those who follow him should expect to be treated like he was treated. Jesus was misunderstood and had false and evil motives applied to him by others. They threatened him, beat him, and eventually crucified him. In their mind, Jesus was a weird person, a false teacher, one who was narrow-minded. If they thought these things about Jesus, who was perfect, why would they not have much worse things to say about us? This should not unnerve us or make us fearful because it is exactly what we should have expected.
- b) Second, we are not to be afraid of threats because God will vindicate, defend us. Jesus says in his opening words in today’s gospel: “Fear no one. Nothing is concealed that will not be revealed, nor secret that will not be known. What I say to you in the darkness, speak in the light; what you hear whispered, proclaim on the housetops” (Mt 10:26-27). On first look, it sounds like this is something that should terrify every one of us. It sounds like it is saying that every bad thing, every evil thought or action is going to be paraded before everyone on the last day. That is NOT what Jesus is saying here.
The Scriptures indicate that all of our secrets will be laid bare before God at the last judgment (Eccl. 12:14; Rom. 2:16; Mat. 12:36–37), but that is not what Jesus was talking about here. Rather, he was talking about the full disclosure of the plans, plots, and conspiracies of those who hate Christ and his people. He was saying that all of the secret plans of the Pharisees, for instance, would be exposed. All of the false accusations against the people of God would be seen as false. As Jesus said in his parable of the persistent widow, “Will not God see justice done to his elect if they keep calling to him day and night even though he still delays to help them?” (Luke 18:7). The reason we should not fear, and instead continue to speak and follow Jesus boldly, is because the Lord will vindicate his people. The charges, the insults, and all the delicate bits of gossip will be exposed as the lies and distortion that they are. He will clear our name and expose those who treated us unjustly. He will defend us. We do not have to worry about defending ourselves. Instead of spending all our time trying to defend, we should continue to proclaim the truth of God’s Word. We must keep telling the world that there is absolute truth and there are things that are right and wrong. If we do what is right, the Lord will defend us and vindicate us when we are wronged.
- c) Third, there is no need to be afraid of death threats. Jesus says: “Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul; rather, be afraid of the one who can destroy both soul and body in Gehenna” (Mt 10:28). Every one of us instinctively fears dying. The unknown terrifies us. We are naturally intimidated by threats of violence and death. Jesus said that is not the way it should be. He says, “All they can do is take your earthly life . . . they cannot touch your true and eternal life. When we no longer fear death because of our confidence in the promise of eternal life that comes through Christ, the most powerful weapon against us is completely disarmed!
Jesus reminds us that God will take care of us. He argues from the lesser to the greater: if God takes note and cares for each sparrow, we can be sure he will take even better care for the human beings who are created in his image. If God is attentive to the lives of birds, how much more attentive will he be to those who are considered his children? Because of our value to the Lord, we need not fear.
- WHAT WE SHOULD FEAR
There is a flip side to this issue of not being afraid. There is something (better still “someone”) that we should fear. Fear only God, who can destroy both soul and body in hell. In fact, when we learn to fear what we should fear, we will no longer fear what we need not fear. The book of Proverbs makes this distinction when we are warned: “The fear of man brings a snare.” Prov 25:29. The same book of says further: “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom” (Prov 9:10). In other words, knowing who is in charge is the first step in wise living. When we “fear” (or respect) the Lord, we recognize that he has primary authority in our lives. It has been said that saints of old “feared man so little because they feared God so much”. When you and I fear God alone, then we can stand boldly in front of people that we would previously have been afraid to share the gospel truth with, even those who would take our lives. For in the end, St. Paul tells us that death, for the follower of Christ, is actually gain (Phil 1: 21).
Here is an example from real life: if you work for someone (say the owner of some big company), one of your goals is to be known by that boss as someone who works hard and works well. You want to please the boss because your future is tied to his opinion of you. You do your job and you seek to do it well. It is the same with a coach of a sports team. You listen carefully to what the coach is saying and do what the coach tells you to do. You do this because you respect the fact that the coach calls the shots. In this respect, if you want to be selected to play, you better make a good impression. Similarly, we fear and respect the Lord because we know he is Lord over all. We know he will have the final word. Our destiny is in his hands. BUT, we do not fear him as a terrorizing dictator. We fear him as one who is loving, kind, and gracious. In other words, we do not fear him out of coercion; we fear him out of deep respect.
- HOW TO OVERCOME FEAR
The question now is how do we overcome our fears?
- a) First, we must learn to admit our fears. This is the first step for resolving any problem. Denial is always dangerous. Jesus, the Master and Teacher, once said: “You will know the truth and the truth will set you free,” (John 8:31).
- b) Second, we need to verbalize our fears. Fears that bottled up in us will always show up in one way or the other; and that can be disastrous. We must articulate, express these fears in word. In this way we get them out in the open where they can be dealt with.
- c) Next, let us not allow our fears to control us. It is okay and normal to be scared out of our socks at times. However, it is immature to allow our feelings to control our actions. We can control our actions regardless of our feelings. It is not always easy but it is a choice we all can make.
- d) Above all, let us learn to trust God. There is no greater way to overcome fear than this. This, also, is a choice we all can make. The book of Proverbs says: “Fear of man will prove to be a snare, but whoever trusts in the Lord is kept safe,” (Prov. 29:25).
- A CASE FOR MATYRDOM IN OUR WORLD TODAY
Given the fact that we generally fear death, it is one of the most powerful weapons that the enemies of Christianity and the enemies of Truth have used and continue to use against the followers of Christ. Because of threats and temptations, many Christians and advocates of truth and justice are known to have disowned Christ in the course of history and continue to do so today. They have sold out; they have compromised their Christian principles and ideals.
In the past, those Christians who refused to compromise were put to death. We call them MARTYRS for the faith. They refused to be intimidated. They paid for it dearly, with their lives. These are the martyrs, the heroes and heroines of our faith. The case for Christianity, in our world today, depends on the presence of witnesses, that is, real Christians. How can people come to know and to follow Christ unless they meet him in the lives of his followers? When the early Christians were no longer required to become martyrs, that is, witnesses to Christ with their blood, many of them became CONFESSORS, that is, witnesses through their lives of prayer and dedicated service.
Today, Jesus is calling us to be witnesses as CHRISTIAN SPOUSES, as CHRISTIAN PARENTS, a CHRISTIAN Civil Servants, CHRISTIAN businessmen/women, CHRISTIAN Lawyers, Teachers, Medical doctors, students, youths, etc. We are called to do all that lies in our power in order combat the daily temptations and challenges that come our way as Christians. We are called to see our vocation to whatever state of life as a call to holiness. “Therefore whoever confesses Me before men, him I will also confess before My Father who is in heaven. But whoever denies Me before men, him I will also deny before My Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 10:26-33).
When Jesus says three times in today’s gospel reading: “Do not be afraid”, he gives us an assurance that if we are rejected or being hurt or afraid of what will happen to us or ready to take responsibility or ready to tell the truth, he will acknowledge us before the Father in heaven. May the same Lord, Jesus, grant us the graces of steadfastness and perseverance in the face of the challenges and adversities that we come across daily. May we be true and courageous witness to the gospel wherever we live, work and interact. Amen