12TH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME YEAR A ON JUNE 21, 2020 (R. 1: Jeremiah 20: 10- 13; Psalm 69: 8- 10, 14, 17, 33- 35; R. 2: Romans 5: 12- 15; Gospel: Matthew 10: 26- 33)
FR EMMANUEL INEDU OCHIGBO
DO NOT BE AFRAID!
“Jesus said to the Twelve: ‘Fear no one…And do not be afraid…So do not be afraid.’” Some people see the word “Fear” as an acronym “F.E.A.R.,” which stands for “False Evidence Appearing Real” or “Forget Everything And Run.” People fear various things on various occasions in different cultures. Some fear for their health, some fear for job security; some are fearful about the disintegration of their family; some fear the number 13 wherever it appears, like Friday the 13th of the month. Some hospitals and hotels have no room 13 because that could scare many away. In some cultures, some fear to hit the left leg on a stone while walking. Others fear to have an itchy right hand. I recently got to know too that some fear to walk under a ladder. The list goes on, but I think the biggest of them is the fear of death.
For psychologists, fear can either be constructive or destructive. The constructive fear of darkness led to the invention of electricity. The constructive fear of diseases leads to the invention of medicine. The constructive fear of losing a good relationship helps us to be respectful of others. The fear of ignorance leads to the establishment of institutions of learning, and the fear of war necessitated the birth of the United Nations. Destructive fear, on the other hand, has no good to offer. It denies us of the beauty of life. It steals away the zest for life. It cripples, and it crumbles.
The best cure for destructive fear is faith. In today’s short Gospel passage, Jesus commands his apostles not to fear. This passage falls under the mission discourse in Matthew’s account of the Gospel. It is the third part of the mission discourse where Jesus prepares his apostles for the mission to Israel.
One thing that is peculiar to Matthew’s account of the mission discourse is that, after this long speech, we hear nothing about the mission itself or its outcome. Some scholars suggest that this is Matthew’s way of saying that the instruction is not just for the twelve but for anyone who takes up the missionary task. Remember that we are all missionaries. The Holy Mass is a “missionary school,” where we receive the training for the mission. At Mass, we receive love from God to share the same love with others. Matthew wrote this Gospel a few decades after the death, resurrection, and ascension of Christ. The Christian communities were experiencing persecutions on account of their message and lifestyle, so Matthew wrote to encourage them and to remind them that Jesus saw this ahead of time. Persecution is an inevitable part of the Christian calling; to be forewarned is to be forearmed. Jesus knew ahead of time that his followers would be threatened by fear of losing their social positions, fear of losing their possessions, fear of being falsely accused, fear of being isolated, etc. So he told them three times not to be afraid, and he gave his reasons.
In the first place, Christians might fear that the persecution brought against them by the enemies might suppress their message as Jeremiah experienced it in the First Reading. In response to this, Jesus said, they should not be afraid because the truth will be revealed. People will always fight to cover the truth, but it is only for a while. With this knowledge, the followers of Christ must stand by the truth no matter the temporary threat they might face. Every lie has an expiry date, but the truth does not expire. Jesus himself, who is the Way, the Truth, and the Life was hidden in the tomb, but it was only for three days, he now lives forever.
The second obstacle is the fear of physical harm or even death. To this, Jesus responded that the disciple should not be afraid because the enemy only has limited power. The jurisdiction of the enemy is limited to the body, while God has authority over the body and the soul. Strive more to preserve your soul, which is eternal than your body, which is temporal.
For the third time, Jesus urged his disciple not to be afraid because nothing is outside the watchful eyes of God. If God is aware of sparrows, how much more his lovely children. He watches and cares about us. St. Augustine says, “God loves each of us as if there were only one of us.” He cares not just about the entire human being, but he cares even about the individual hairs of the human being.
A little boy woke his father up shortly after midnight to follow him to the bathroom (an outhouse). His father asked him to go alone that there was nothing outside that would harm him. The little boy kept asking his father to follow him; then his father promised that he would be watching him from his bed. With that, the boy became confident, and he got up from the bed. Before taking his first step, he asked his father, “Dad, are you watching me?” “Yes,” came the response from his father. Halfway between the bed and the bathroom, he asked again, “Dad, are you watching me?” “Sure!” replied his father. He opened the door and asked again, “Dad, are you still watching me?” “Trust me!” replied his father. Finally, before taking care of what brought him to the bathroom, he yelled, “Daddy, are you watching me?” “Sure, sure, sure, sure…” replied his father. Confidently, he finished his “business” because he believed his father was watching and so nothing could harm him. But before he came back into the room, his father had fallen asleep.
The good news in our case is that we have a Father in Heaven who neither sleeps nor slumbers (cf. Psalm 121:4) and so he is always watching over us. For this reason, Jesus expects us to let our faith conquer our fears. Don’t take that extra bottle of the bear because you are afraid your friends might ridicule you; don’t fear what your colleagues will think of you when you stand by the truth; don’t fear what will be thought of you when you pray before you eat at the restaurant; don’t be afraid of losing your friends when you defend the defenseless. It is better to walk with God in the dark than to walk with the world in the light, and it is better to walk with God by faith than to walk alone by sight. Somewhere else, the Lord says, “Fear not, for I am with you (Isaiah 41: 10).