Do not be afraid:
There is a lot of fear in society today. God understands and seeks to dispel our fears.
Nikita Khrushchev denounced many of his predecessor Joseph Stalin’s policies. In the midst of a speech he was critical of Stalin’s cruelty and was interrupted by someone in the audience. “You were one of his colleagues, why didn’t you stop him?” “Who said that?”, roared Khrushchev. There was a deathly silence. After an awkward couple of minutes Khrushchev said, “Now you know why I didn’t speak out”. His audience had been intimidated by fear into silence and Khrushchev in Stalin’s era was no exception. The Devil knows how to pick his moment. In the Gospel Jesus has just told the disciples of their share in His mission and its demanding implications. Immediately I can hear the evil one whispering in the disciples ears, “They won’t listen, you’re inviting trouble, you will fail, it is beyond you, don’t even try”. Jesus can see uncertainty, a lack of confidence and hesitation in the disciples eyes the consequence of which is fear. Fear in turn renders the fearful person silent. Silent disciples can (with rare exceptions) never be good witnesses, effective bearers of the Good News. Jesus tackles this fear in our Gospel today.
Let me be honest, I can understand their fear. Jesus has just told His disciples they will be taken to court, scourged, betrayed by their families, and universally hated on account of Jesus’s Name. Witness may cost them their life. I wonder, why didn’t Jesus sweeten the pill? Why didn’t He emphasise possible fringe benefits, or give them the challenging bits gradually instead of in one great intimidating lump? Because Jesus tells the Truth as it is. What happens to Him, will often happen to His followers. Jesus wants His followers to clearly understand the price of discipleship. Following Jesus is not an easy option or the promise of a comfortable life. To follow Jesus is to do whatever love, duty, compassion and mercy asks of us. To obey when we are full of doubt. To serve and care when we feel out of our depth. To keep going when we feel exhausted. To keep trying though we are frustrated and disappointed. Jesus knows that serving in the Kingdom of God’s love is total commitment and makes great demands on the believer. Jesus will not pretend or understate what a follower of His will be called upon to do. Jesus told it as it was. If Jesus sanitized the message of its demands, His disciples might be tempted to leave out the challenging bits in their witnessing to make the Good News more acceptable and palatable. The Truth would no longer be the whole Truth. Jesus has probably lost a few disciples along the way, some have stayed and in our Gospel today we find in understandable fear.
Jesus tries to give His disciple vision and a sense of proportion. Primarily, this life is not the only life. Followers of Jesus are passing through this life to the fullness of eternal life with God. If this were the only life, those who could deny us this life by killing us would be in full control. We need our sense of proportion. This life is but a blink of an eye compared to the eternal joy of Heaven. We must invest all our loving efforts in this life to secure our Heavenly life. We must keep our eyes on the prize of unending joy and bliss in the arms of God and our loved ones. Remember, the world can only take away what it gives you. It cannot take away what God gives you. The disciples need to be reminded of this. This life for us is our place of important work. It is a privileged time to use our God given talents and blessing to enhance the lives of others in God’s Name by witness and service. I remember years ago Green Shield Stamps. I was only little and mom would let me stick the stamps in the book. I knew a full book(s) meant we could have a kettle, toaster and such; to little me there seemed so many pages, and so few stamps. Mom would encourage me to be patient and just stick the stamps in the book. Sure enough, in due course the book was full. Each of our days of love, kindness, compassion, prayer, good will, joyful hope is incrementally serving the greater good of God’s Kingdom. We wonder sometimes if our efforts amount to much, but in God’s eyes the book is filling up, we have treasure in Heaven where it counts. This is where vision is important. Jesus invites us to look at this life through the spectacles of Heaven. We are here for Heaven’s sake.
Jesus warns the disciples to seek God’s approval over the compliments of the society to which they bring the Good News. They aren’t sent to impress, but to inform. What is whispered must consequently be loudly, consistently and boldly proclaimed from the housetops. It is not about their powers of persuasion; the message contains its own power. The disciple must get the message out there, into the conversation of the world. The disciple gives people the option of knowing Jesus and having the fullness of life though faith. We are not the story, God is. Some people have said to me: ‘You do God’s work, Father’. The Truth is only God can do God’s work. Thankfully, at times people can sense God working though me, often despite me. Today, Jesus tells His disciples they must be prepared to stand up and be counted, people upon whom God can depend. A little reassurance is helpful and Jesus gives it. Nothing will happen to us when God is not looking. God is always watching over us. The sparrow was the cheapest item in the market. Yet the sparrow is always in God’s concern and He watches over it and nothing can befall it without God knowing. How much more God values us!
There is an element of quid pro quo given by the Lord today. Jesus invites us to speak for Him in this life and He in turn will speak for us to His Father in Heaven. That is fair, isn’t it? Everything we say and do can have eternal consequences for us. No one ever said witness was easy but it is vitally important. We may be the only page of the Gospel some people will ever read. We will always need help from God. I still have my ‘L plates’ on and each day this priest is learning. I read that as long as the first and last letter of a word are correct no matter how misspelt or jumbled, the brain can understand the word, figure it out. Our Lord wants to put His reassurance: FEAR NOT, at the beginning and end of everything that makes up our lives. We may feel what is in the middle doesn’t always make sense or seems disconnected, even ineffective; but it is loving done and held together by our mission free from fear. To be the only voice of truth in a conversation or the only witness to the Gospel of love in the room is not easy. But this discomfort is nothing compared to the enduring joy of God’s approval.
A couple were visiting a missionary friend in Korea and saw a father and his son pulling a plough. They said to the priest, “They must be very poor”. “Yes, they are”, said the priest. He continued: “They are the Chi Nevi family. When we built our Church some months ago, they were eager to give towards the cost of God’s House. They had no money so they sold their ox and gave the proceeds to the Church. Now this Spring they must pull the plough themselves”. “That was a great sacrifice”, one of the visitors said. “They do not call it a sacrifice”, said the priest. “They were just grateful to God that He had given them an ox to sell”. The Chi Nevi family gave a humble, generous, powerful sacrificial witness to their love of God. They had their eyes on the prize. Their selfless vision is correct. Their self-impoverishing gesture, foolish in the eyes of the world, is of infinite value to God. Witness in action can be more profound than witness in words and, as I am sure in this case, can leave a deep and lasting impression. Rich in the eyes of the world or rich in the eyes of God; only one of these states endures the other passes, choose well.
Fr. Gerard X