Twelfth Sunday of the Year June 25, 2017

June 18, 2017

Readings: Jeremiah 20:10-13; Romans 5:12-15; Matthew 10:26-33

“Do not be afraid.” How good it is for someone who is worried to hear those words from Jesus. Jesus knew we needed to hear those words. “Do not be afraid.” Jesus, who was human as well as divine, knew that some of us need to be reminded again and again not to worry. So many times in the Gospels we hear Jesus asking us not to worry. Three times in today’s Gospel we hear Jesus saying, “Do not be afraid.” The reason why Jesus tells us these words is that the Heavenly Father has great concern for us all. He knows us well, our person, our well being, our needs. Prophet Jeremiah tells us to expel from our mind all fear and worry because God is with us and he will protect us from all evil. He invites us therefore to commit our cause to God. At the same time St Paul tells us that the grace of God is great and it is a free gift given to us in and through Jesus. That is the reason why we do not have any reason to worry or fear. Hence the central theme of today’s reading is that we should expel all fear and anxiety from our minds by cherishing an unshakable confidence in the never failing providence of God.

Today’s First Reading from the Book of Jeremiah recalls an event that took place when the Lord God called the great prophet Jeremiah as His spokesman to warn the people of the coming judgment that awaited Israel because of their sins. Sensitive that he was he never wanted to be a prophet since he knew the conflicts and the evil behaviour of the people. His fidelity to his mission brought him nothing but heartbreak. The unbelievers laughed at Jeremiah. They plotted against him so that they could silence him. He was denounced for speaking on behalf of God and was put in prison. His former friends sided with his enemies and he knew the whispers of many. They had made several attempts on his life. They were watching when he would fail so that they could take revenge. Feeling alone, betrayed, discouraged and even abandoned by God he sensed a sense of anger mixed with his trust in God. Frustrated with the people who lived in sin, Jeremiah decided to keep quiet, to stop talking on behalf of the Almighty Lord God. But Jeremiah was burning with such an intense fire within his heart that he could no longer keep quiet. He had to speak on behalf of the Lord. Yet Jeremiah understands God’s love for his people and expresses his confidence in him in the midst of all trials.

Today’s Second Reading, the Letter of Paul to the Romans, reminds us that by the grace of God the Father, we received a free gift through Jesus Christ. Paul tells us clearly that we are dealing with a God of infinite mercy and infinite love. He created man and gave him gifts which raised him above all other earthly creatures. Through these gifts man was able to recognize that he is a mere creature and has to respect and respond faithfully to his creator. Through the sin of disobedience of one man, Adam, all his descendants were called to suffer eternal damnation. Because of the solidarity of the human race, by Adam’s sin all human beings were alienated from God. But, thanks to the righteous act of one Man, Jesus Christ, His perfect sacrifice as the Lamb of God, all human beings have become right with God. The redemption of Jesus is more powerful than the sin of Adam. In Jesus and by his grace we can conquer all sin. Paul’s frequent contrast between one person and all or many brings out the fact that the malevolent influence of Adam and the benevolent influence of Jesus Christ apply to all people. Through one person Adam sin entered the world. This sin that entered the world which we may call original sin today, personified that hostile power against God and to his people. With sin came death to all humankind. But God who is the source of all in Jesus gave us new life. Let us therefore thank God for his infinite mercy and love.

The reading from the Gospel of Matthew advises us not to afraid of human persons. Jesus repeatedly asks the twelve disciples not to be afraid. As disciples we stand with Jesus entrusting ourselves to him. Jesus reassures us of our value in God’s eyes and promises us that he will protect us as he does with the birds of the air and entire creation. Jesus asks his followers to preach boldly, fearing no shame from their peers in this world. The flat housetops provided easier places of preaching than the streets themselves. He tells them that they should be “shouting from the housetops” that underlines the boldness with which disciples must make God’s message known. Ultimately they have to fear God alone because God is judge in the end; we should not fear even persecutors who threaten death. Mortals can destroy only our body, while God can resurrect the body at any time. The choice is not between courage and fear but has to do with whom we will fear more. Jesus may here recalling the Jewish martyr tradition, which exhorted its followers not to fear those who think they can kill, because eternal suffering awaits the soul that disobeys God’s command.

Jesus plants into the hearts of his disciples the great power and might of God who is their care taker. He assures them that they can trust God’s sovereignty as their protection in the face of any disaster or death. He gives the example of the sparrows sold in the market and a buyer certainly could have a good bargain while purchasing them. Sparrows thus were the cheapest commodity sold in the markets; an assarion was a small coin, one-sixteenth of a denarius, thus equivalent to less than an hour’s wage. Yet as worthless as sparrows were to people, and having such a meager monetary value, even then God watched over them. Jewish teachers agreed that God was sovereign over each bird’s fate. We may therefore be strongly assured that nothing happens to us when God is “not looking”. This teaching fits the biblical perspective of a God sovereign over history, who knows every hair on our heads. In other words God is in control of every detail of our life and existence and we have nothing to worry.

Jesus delicately tells his disciples not to be worried of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. The history of the church is filled with examples where people have stood for Jesus and sacrificed their lives. A prominent example was when Archbishop Oscar Romero was gunned down in the middle of celebrating Mass by the military rulers of El Salvador, to be followed some years later by the brutal and sadistic murder of six Jesuit priests dragged from their beds in the middle of the night. All that these men did was to draw attention to the many injustices being perpetrated against the poor and powerless in their society. There are many others who have died silently and are known to Jesus alone. They can be found, for instance, in the history of the Church in China, Japan, Korea and India where thousands have shed their blood in the name of the Gospel. It has been said that there have been more Christian martyrs in the 20th century than in any other since the time of Jesus.

Today’s Gospel reminds us that we do have a responsibility to stand up and be counted. And, thank God, many are still doing so. “If anyone declares himself for me in the presence of others, I will declare myself for him in the presence of my Father in heaven. But the one who disowns me in the presence of others, I will disown in the presence of my Father in heaven.” At the same time, we are assured of God’s protection and help. The greatest danger is not the loss of our lives, although some people will be prepared to make any compromise to survive physically. The greatest fear is not that we may be killed but that we may be seduced into betraying those values on which our integrity as human persons depends. To save our “bodies” at the expense of Truth, at the expense of Love, at the expense of Justice, at the expense of Freedom, at the expense of Human Solidarity – this is the real danger. That is the real death.

This is a common reaction to prophets, as in the case of Gandhi and Martin Luther King. It makes it easier for people not to have to listen to their message. In spite of all, however, Jeremiah knew that God and Truth were upholding him. “The Lord is at my side, a mighty hero; my opponents will stumble, mastered, confounded by their failure.” Jesus further tells his disciples not to worry and say, ‘What are we to eat?’ or ‘What are we to drink?’ or ‘What are we to wear?’ Food, clothing and shelter is something every human person seeks. This is what an unbeliever would do to get satisfaction in life. He tells them not to worry as the Father in heaven is aware of all their needs and aspirations. He wants them instead to search for the Kingdom of God. This basic search will lead them to receive all they need in life. So he tells them not to worry about tomorrow; tomorrow will take care of itself. In this way Jesus disposes off all anxiety and distress. There is a great lesson for us in how Jesus dealt with worry and distress in Gethsemane: He felt great inner pain; he felt his Passion would be too much for him, “My soul is sorrowful even to death.” He trusts his Father and he says: “your will be done.”
Jesus therefore provides the remedy to overcome worry and distress. Having faith in his heavenly Father and sharing the cause of his worry in prayer with the Father. We see a transformation in Jesus during his prayer. He began praying, “My soul is sorrowful even to death” (Matt 26:38) but when he concluded he prayed, “Your will be done!” (Matt 26:42) That is what happens to us when we have faith in God and bring our anxieties to God in prayer. We should be transformed during prayer and receive strength from God to face what lies ahead. So when there are problems, have faith and pray! It is no surprise therefore that we hear Jesus rebuking the disciples when they are afraid during the storm because their faith is weak. Faith is a human response to the revealed word of God. God reveals himself continuously and he invites us to respond to him in faith.

We have toe words of Jesus, “If anyone declares himself for me in the presence of men, I will declare myself for him in the presence of my Father in heaven.” We are aware from the moment we are born, we learn to fear the world around us, certainly to fear the stranger, sometimes to fear even those who are closest to us. Political leaders have long recognized the power of fear in ensuring our conformity to the structures this world, even when doing so does not serve our best interests. Fear is the driving force behind vast segments of our economy, as well as, increasingly, our political priorities. Jesus recognizes that fear will also cause the failure of discipleship. His disciples courageously leave the security of their homes and families to follow him as they proclaim the advent of God’s reign, but they, too, will know and ultimately bow before the power of fear. Faithful proclamation and practice of the gospel inevitably puts disciples on a collision course with the powers of this world. So, as Jesus prepares his disciples for their mission, he is starkly realistic about the threats they will face, at the same time he builds the case for why they should not let this fear master them or hinder their witness. He is their support and an example of courage and strength.

What the Lord said to his apostles applies to all Christians in their practice of faith. By the very fact of our living this faith openly and fully we are apostles by example. If we are always truthful and faithful to our promises, if we are honest in our dealings, if we are ready pay justly the dues to others, if we treat all human persons as our brothers and sisters, if we show respect towards others we are true Christians. We have to be the light shining in darkness and being the shining lamps in the world of today. Witnessing to Jesus and following God’s way also helps others in the crowd who are lacking courage to follow Jesus.

Who is Jesus? And who are we? These are the two questions we must ask ourselves when we read the gospel for today’s liturgy. Who is Jesus? He is the One who speaks to us! “What I tell you in the dark, utter in the light.” Jesus is the Word of the Father, he whom the Father begets and conceives eternally in the Spirit of Love! Jesus is this Man, who is also and firstly God, but who is our Mediator with the Father: it is through Jesus and in Jesus that the Father makes us his adoptive sons, heirs with his only Son. Who are we? We are those who speak to the whole world the same Word that we have heard, in Jesus, from the Father! Because if we are adoptive sons of the Father, and heirs with Christ, then we are also, in a certain way, mediators of the Father’s Word, the Word that is none other than Jesus himself. We are those through whom other men and women can also become adoptive sons of God in Jesus Christ! We need the courage to discover Jesus and to proclaim him before others.

The only survivor of a shipwreck was washed up on a small, uninhabited island. He prayed feverishly for God to rescue him. Every day he scanned the horizon for help, but none seemed forthcoming. Exhausted, he eventually managed to build a little hut out of driftwood to protect himself from the elements, and to store his few possessions. One day after scavenging for food, he arrived home to find his little hut in flames, with smoke rolling up to the sky. He felt the worst had happened, and everything was lost. He was stunned with disbelief, grief, and anger. He cried out, ‘God! How could you do this to me?’ Early the next day, he was awakened by the sound of a ship approaching the island! It had come to rescue him! ‘How did you know I was here?’ asked the weary man of his rescuers. ‘We saw your smoke signal,’ they replied. The Moral of This Story: It’s easy to get discouraged when things are going bad, but we shouldn’t lose heart, because God is at work in our lives, even in the midst of our pain and suffering. Remember that the next time your little hut seems to be burning to the ground. It just may be a smoke signal that summons the Grace of God.

A little wave was bobbing along in the ocean, having a grand old time. He’s enjoying the wind and the fresh air until he notices the other waves in front of him, crashing against the shore. “My God, this is terrible,” the wave says. “Look what’s going to happen to me!” Then along comes another wave. It sees the first wave, looking grim, and it says to him, “Why do you look so sad?” The first wave says, “You don’t understand! We’re all going to crash! All of us waves are going to be nothing! Isn’t this terrible?” The second wave says, “No, YOU don’t understand. You’re not a wave; you’re part of the ocean.”

Fr. Eugene Lobo S.J. Bangalore, India