JER 20: 10-13; ROM 5:12-15; MATTHEW 10: 26-33
Anecdote: Fearless St. Teresa. St. Teresa of Avila is famous as a theologian, reformer of the Carmelite Order, and spiritual advisor to the great medieval Spanish mystic, St. John of the Cross. But Teresa's ministry was not well received in her community. Her sisters had grown lax in faith and practice, and when she called for reform their response was to throw her out of convents that she herself had established. On one occasion, she was turned out at night in the middle of a rainstorm. Dressed only in her coarse wool habit, she climbed into a donkey cart and was riding along when the wheel of the cart hit a ditch and the cart turned over, dumping Teresa into the mud. She sat there, in mud-soaked wool, looked up to heaven, and said, "Lord, if this is the way you treat your friends, it's no wonder that you don't have many." But frustrated as she was, Teresa clung to God. In one of her meditations on the Disciplines of the Holy Spirit, Teresa talks about how we must not be deceived by the appearance that evil triumphs over good. She wrote, "God uses the Devil as a sharpening-stone for Christians." Teresa not only taught this lesson, she lived by it. She never gave up on God, even when her sisters opposed her by going to priests and bishops to make trouble for her. She kept right on teaching what she knew to be the truth. And eventually, she won out. Her desire was to be faithful, and God prospered her efforts. Today, she is known as a Doctor of the Church -- an exemplary teacher and thinker -- while the nuns who treated her so badly remain dead and unknown. And the Carmelite convents of Teresa's reform continue to this very day. Teresa understood what the prophet Jeremiah was talking about in the first reading and what Jesus was teaching in today's Gospel lesson.
Introduction: Our scripture for this Twelfth Sunday in Ordinary Time is a call to preach Christ through our words and lives without fear.
Scripture lessons: The first reading tells us how the prophet Jeremiah trusted in the power of God while he faced opposition for his prophetic ministry. The psalmist in today’s responsorial psalm repeats the same trust in the kindness and great mercy of God when he is misunderstood and ill-treated even by his brothers and relatives. In the second reading Paul assures the Christians in Rome that they need not be afraid of opposition because they share in the death of Jesus and his resurrection or they are united with Christ the new Adam in his resurrection. Today’s gospel passage is from the end of Jesus’ instruction to his disciples as he sends them forth to carry on his mission of preaching and healing. He asks them to live simply and to expect opposition and rejection. After having predicted the future opposition and persecution Jesus encourages his disciples to stand firm. Three times they are urged, "Do not fear!" "Do not be afraid!" Instead of shrinking from their task, they are to proclaim the Gospel boldly, because they will be protected just as Jeremiah was assured of God's protection. Hence Jesus commands his disciples not to fear their persecutors. He presents before them the image of the sparrow to reinforce the disciples’ trust and hope in God. The readings hint at the opposition we future Christians will encounter as we carry on the work of Jesus in the world and they encourage us to persevere in doing the work of Jesus. They assure us that we will be successful despite the opposition we encounter.
The first reading: Jer 20: 10-13: The first reading from Jeremiah, like today’s Gospel, reflects on the suffering of the believer. Jeremiah experienced the dangers posed by his friends, and even his family because he spoke the words given him by Yahweh. He lived from about 650 B.C. to 580 B.C. Most of his work was in Judah's capital Jerusalem. He tried to keep the people and the kings faithful to God in a world of political intrigue. Nevertheless, Jeremiah was confident that God would not let his enemies overcome him. He declared, "But the Lord is with me, like a mighty champion: my persecutors will stumble, they will not triumph." He praised God for salvation before he actually experienced it. "Sing to the Lord, praise the Lord, for he has rescued the life of the poor from the power of the wicked!" The passage from Jeremiah contains three voices and three addressees. There is the overall narrator, there is Jeremiah himself, and there are his enemies.
The second reading: Rom 5: 12-15: Paul assures the faithful followers of Jesus that they need not be afraid of opposition because they share in the death of Jesus and in his resurrection. With words of encouragement Paul explains why, in spite of the bitter experience of opposition, their work will succeed. Since Jesus, by his death and resurrection, has conquered sin, Jesus' followers will ultimately succeed in carrying out his work despite the opposition they encounter. Paul describes Jesus as the new Adam. Where the first Adam brought sin and death into the world, the second Adam brings grace and life. The passage tells us that we have died with Christ to the law, to sin, to self and to the world. We need not be afraid of those who oppose us, for we are united with Christ in his resurrection. In the end, those who oppose Christ will be dishonored, and those who have remained faithful will be redeemed and blessed with eternal life.
Exegetical notes: Have no fear. Jesus gives three reasons why his apostles, and we, should not be frightened. The first reason is that opponents will not be able to prevent Jesus' followers from succeeding in their mission because God will expose their evil plans and deeds: "nothing is covered up that will not be uncovered." The Lord "will bring to light the hidden things of darkness" (1 Cor 4:5), and will vindicate the faithful. That God will not permit evil to win is the promise of v. 26.
The second reason not to be afraid is the limited power of our opponents. They can kill the body, which dies all too soon anyway, but have no power over the soul. Only God has power over eternity. The gospel identifies two fears that the apostles had: fear of false accusation and conviction, and fear of bodily harm and death. Tradition has it that almost all the apostles died the violent death of martyrdom. Some of them ended up being crucified on the cross, like Peter and Andrew; beheaded, like James and Paul; flayed alive, like Bartholomew; or thrown into a cauldron of boiling oil, like John. When the Old Testament mentioned fear of God (Psalm 2:11; 15:4; 19:9; 22:23; 25:12, etc.) it generally meant giving due respect to God. Respect is an attitude proper to a free person. God does not threaten to throw us into hell; rather he reminds us that to lose him by sin is to lose ourselves also--and that is hell. There is no reason to fear God because He does not wish that any one should perish. He has sent Christ to provide salvation for all. Fear of God overcomes human fear.
The third reason we should not be afraid is God's compassionate love. We are more important to God than sparrows. Matthew speaks of two sparrows sold for one penny. The God who cares for a trivial bird like the sparrow also cares about our smallest problems – even the hairs on our heads are counted. While this is an encouraging assurance, it may be difficult to believe in the midst of persecution. But God knows everything that we go through – nothing that happens to us escapes him. When we feel lonely and abandoned, when it seems that our prayers are unanswered, God knows and cares. Jesus concludes by saying, "So do not be afraid; you are worth much more than many sparrows." In other words, the perfect antidote for fear is trust in God. God is our shelter and strength, always ready to help in times of trouble. So we will not be afraid… (Psalm 45:1, 2. Confer also Psalm 27:1,2, Psalm 91:1,2)
The necessity of loyalty in Christian life. If we are loyal to Jesus in this life, Jesus will be loyal to us in the life to come. On the other hand, if we are too proud to acknowledge that Christ is our Lord and Savior, He will not acknowledge us in the next life. In the early church, Christians had the courage of their convictions, knowing very well that this might result in their losing their lives. Hence, we must not deny him through our silence, whether in word or deed. Denial by deeds arises from actions that do not match our profession of faith. We must not be ashamed to behave as people of faith and proclaim our Christian convictions when necessary.
Revelation of hidden things and triumph of truth. "There is nothing hidden that will not be revealed and nothing secret that will not be made known," This is not a threat that God will expose some sin we had forgotten. Jesus speaks these words as good news, as a reason not to be afraid of persecution. These verses promise that the evil motives and the wickedness of the persecutors will someday become a matter of public knowledge. At the Last Judgment, the persecutors will not be able to hide their sin. It will eventually come to light and to judgment. When that happens, those who have been persecuted will be vindicated before God and before the world. Verses 26-27 promise the ultimate triumph of truth and righteousness. We are challenged to trust in the loving God who continually saves us in the events of our lives. We are sheltered, protected and wrapped in God’s love. Hence, we are free – free of fear – free to live – free to witness to Christ through our lives.
Life messages: 1) Be not afraid: Sometimes we are afraid that we will make a wrong decision. At other times, we are afraid of what others will think when we speak up for Jesus. We are afraid of what the future will bring our children. We are also afraid of growing old. Sometimes we are afraid of what bad health will bring us. At the root of these fears is the fear of loss. Every fear we have is grounded in the knowledge that we have something or someone to lose. I can lose my job, family, house, money, health and even life itself. Rejection and loss are the basis of our fears. But we forget one thing: whatever trouble or crisis affects us, we know that God understands it better than we ourselves. Our heavenly Father knows exactly what is happening. What a release from fear it is to know that God is on our side; that our life is in the hands of a loving God. The next time fear grips our life we need to remember that being faithful to Christ wherever we meet him in this life is much more important than our fear of rejection and loss. Also let us take a moment to recall some of the great promises of God. Let us remind ourselves that God cares – we are each a dear child of his and he cares for each of us. "Don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows." The last verse of Psalm 27 sums it up nicely, "Trust in the Lord. Have faith, do not despair. Trust in the Lord." (Prepared by Fr. Anthony Kadavil).