12th Sunday in Ordinary Time (Fr. Francis)
Market researchers studied three thousand persons, asking: “What are you most afraid of? You can guess most of the responses: heights, financial insecurity, snakes, dying. The big surprise is that the #1 fear was speaking in front of a group. Today’s first and third readings deal with that fear of speaking before groups.
Our Scripture readings for this Twelfth Sunday in Ordinary Time challenge us to preach Christ through our words and lives without fear.
Jeremiah was a reluctant prophet who feared shame and death. Jeremiah tells us what his fear felt like: “Terror from every side.” His faith in God pushed him through that fear. He “did the right thing”; he spoke out for God in spite of his fear.
In our Gospel, Jesus counsels his disciples as they set out on their missionary journey to speak to their fellow Jews. They are not to fear; they are to proclaim the good news — even from the housetops.
We acknowledge and step up for our friends when they are unjustly accused or scoffed at . . . Or we are not much of a friend. But, before we do that, we are fearful of being rejected and shunned. Pushing through those fears, we acknowledge and step up for our friends. That is a part of the price of friendship.
There are times when our god is not spoken well of. Jesus said at the Last Supper, “I no longer call you servants; I call you friends.” He calls us friends. Do we reciprocate? Do we step up for our Lord, as a friend when god is scoffed at? Are we fearful that we will be thought of as “different” — labeled a “religious fanatic,” a “Jesus freak,” a “wacko”? Do we play it cool, do we become cowardly and give in to the temptation with an eyes-lowered- “yeah.” That would be unfaithful to our friend, Jesus. We need to choose fidelity as our “default.”
The Gospel concluded with strong words from Jesus: “Everyone who acknowledges me before others I will acknowledge before my heavenly father. But whoever denies me before others, I will deny before my heavenly father.”
Unlike Jeremiah whom history indicates was later murdered in Egypt, unlike Jesus himself who “did the right thing” then suffered rejection, torture, and the cross, unlike ten of the apostles, who suffered death, as martyrs for their faith, we will most surely never come near to being physically tortured or killed for standing up for our Lord. Jesus never said that our worldly reputation would not suffer. Being labeled may be “the” cost of discipleship for us.
In the Gospel Jesus invites us to entertain two fears: the fear of the one who can destroy body and soul together and the fear of developing a “hardened heart.”
We need not be afraid because our life is in the hands of a loving God. 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.”
Let’s recall the prayer of Thomas Merton, the Trappist priest, famous spiritual author, peace activist who died under suspicious circumstances while in the Far East:
“I do not see the road ahead of me.
I cannot know for certain where it will end…
I know that you will lead me by the right road,
though I may know nothing about it.
Therefore I trust you always;
I will not fear for you are with me;
and you never leave me to face my perils alone.”
If we do not look at our weak selves, but toward our god we will have the courage to face our fears. We will be able to show the world what it means to live as fearless disciples of Jesus the Christ when the occasion calls for it.
Tom Brown’s School Days: This story of an English boys’ school, written in 1857 as a novel by Thomas Hughes, was based on his own experiences as a student of Rugby Boys School. A new boy joined the school. As he got ready for bed the first night, he knelt to say his prayers in a dormitory with twelve other lads. Tom Brown was among them and he was the most popular boy. The other boys were looking forward to making fun of the newcomer. Tom noticed a heavy shoe flying in the air to hit the praying boy. But it missed his head. Laughter and ridicule followed. The incident shook Tom and he could not sleep for some time. He kept thinking of his mother and the prayers she had taught him, prayers he had not said since coming to the school. So, encouraged by the example of the fearless newcomer, the following night Tom also knelt down to pray. The other boys who planned to bully the new boy the second night, immediately noticed what their leader and hero was doing, and they withdrew with respectful silence. Soon, the courage of two boys won the respect and admiration of the entire class. Here is an example of what Jesus taught his apostles in today’s gospel to preach the good news without fear.
Fr. A. Francis HGN