12th Sunday of Year (A)
(Jeremiah 20:10-13; Romans 5:12-15; Matthew 10:26-33)
Jesus was speaking from His own experience when, in our Gospel reading, He told His disciples not to be afraid. He Himself had come into this world to speak peace to God’s people and to free them from the darkness and servitude of sin by proclaiming His Gospel of salvation. He had not been well-received by the ‘religious establishment’, and He knew that worse, including political alarm and popular disenchantment, was to follow. Therefore, He was sending His Apostles out to the lost sheep of the house of Israel with this commission (Matthew 10:7):
As you go, preach, saying, 'The kingdom of heaven is at hand'
He warned them (10:16-18):
I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves; therefore, be wise as serpents and harmless as doves. But beware of men, for they will deliver you up to councils and scourge you in their synagogues. You will be brought before governors and kings for My sake, as a testimony to them and to the Gentiles.
Jesus' warning cannot have failed to stir them, perhaps prompting them to remember what happened to Jeremiah when God had sent him to preach forthcoming disaster and desolation to the people of Jerusalem become ‘stiff-necked’ in their disobedience; for, as you heard in the first reading, despite his divine commission, it had not made Jeremiah acceptable, on the contrary, it had been a downright dangerous message for him to deliver to God’s People:
I have heard the whispering of many, "Terror on every side! Denounce him; yes, let us denounce him!" All those who were my friends are on the watch for any misstep of mine saying: "Perhaps he will be deceived, so that we may prevail against him and take our revenge on him."
And yet, discounting any possible fears that they themselves might meet such opposition, Jesus insisted that His Apostles should proclaim His message not only without fear, but to the very utmost of their powers:
What I say to you in the darkness, speak in the light; and what you hear whispered, proclaim on the housetops.
Jesus had already spoken -- and would still continue to speak -- many things to them in the calm solitude of their evenings together, and what He had, in that way, told them privately ‘in the dark’, they were to speak publicly in full light of day. And perhaps those words what you hear whispered is a reference to the Holy Spirit Who – according to Jesus’ promise -- would recall to their minds and hearts whatever aspects of His teaching they might otherwise have forgotten or even, perhaps, like to have forgotten. Whatever, whether it was words Jesus' own voice had spoken in their hearing, or the inspiration of the Holy Spirit whispering to their minds and in their hearts, all had to be proclaimed without fear.
How can we today learn from Jesus’ sending His Apostles then?
The Twelve were being sent to the lost sheep of the house of Israel, to a people that is who had been prepared over thousands of years to hopefully hear, understand, and embrace their message:
Whatever town or village you enter, look for a worthy person in it, and stay there until you leave. As you enter a house, wish it peace. If the house is worthy, let your peace come upon it; if not, let your peace return to you. Whoever will not receive you or listen to your words—go outside that house or town and shake the dust from your feet. Amen, I say to you, it will be more tolerable for the land of Sodom and Gomorrah on the day of judgment than for that town. (Matthew 10: 11-15)
That is obviously not the situation for Mother Church’s proclamation of Jesus today, but Jesus’ words and intentions still offer wise guidance for us who want to be His true disciples in our modern world where rejection of God is rampant and the exaltation of human values and expectations is blatant and verging on the ludicrous at times. For example, learned academics of Oxford and Coventry are now giving us the results of their recent studies telling us that more sex -- for 50 to 83 year olds! – is healthy, indeed promotes health; and ‘all caveats apart, the national birth rate must be maintained’, says ‘The Times’ article. What has happened to wisdom that used to be so lovingly sought and taught in universities? Surely such elderly (!) parental health-witnessing or health-promoting pleasures should not be inflicted upon their children … or perhaps the prospect of any progeny is to be discounted, or any resultant ‘mistake’ got-rid-of? I think that St. Paul has better advice than our scholars:
The one who sows for his flesh will reap corruption from the flesh, but the one who sows for the spirit will reap eternal life from the spirit. (Galatians 6:8)
People of God, there are many disciples of Jesus today, in our own society and in our Western world, who are afraid of the consequences that might result for them if they were to publicly support/proclaim the teaching of Jesus, for such teaching is not popular today just as Jesus Himself is not popular. Of course, almost everyone today will say that Jesus was a good man, indeed, a great man; but what they do not like about Him is His claim to have a personal calling and authority, and above all, a divine dignity, which obliges all who know Him and His word to decide either for Him or against Him; and deciding for Him would oblige them to keep His word and risk public derision or opprobrium while, on the other hand, deciding against Him might secretly threaten their eternal destiny:
Whoever is ashamed of Me and of My words in this faithless and sinful generation, the Son of Man will be ashamed of when He comes in His Father’s glory with the holy angels. (Mark 8:38)
Therefore, despite His many kind actions and wonderful words, this Jesus of authority is unacceptable to modern society, as is the authoritative teaching of His Church; and many who want to think of themselves as disciples of Jesus actually find themselves hesitant or even afraid to proclaim the fulness of His message by their words under the misapprehension that proclaiming the Good News of Jesus means ‘taking on’ the unbelieving world around by arguing in public or hectoring individuals in private. We have to recognize, People of God, in our post-Christian, post-religion world, that proclamation does not necessarily involve, and most certainly does not mean, arguing with enemies, it also does not necessarily mean trying to persuade people (such persuasion usually involves ‘watering down’ as an essential component). What proclamation does mean, however, is calm and, if necessary, courageous witness to what is true and beautiful (not the latest hot-spot of public contention), something that can only be done by patient and persevering testimony. For priests and leaders of the people, there can be, at times, an almost overwhelming temptation to seek success by flirting with popularity. Of course, on such occasions they might even persuade themselves it is Jesus they are trying to make popular … but who could ever make popular One who never courted popularity Himself in the slightest! Jesus wanted love that leads to personal commitment, not enthusiasm that cries out to be surrounded by others similarly excited. Jesus’ message was neither intended nor phrased to provoke or promote His own popularity, rather He deliberately sought to challenge, inspire, and then convert, individual consciences before and for His Father.
Jesus therefore sought to comfort and strengthen the Twelve by explaining:
Fear no one. Nothing is concealed that will not be revealed, nor secret that will not be known.
There will be a final denouement, a day of judgment when all false colours will be lowered in shame, all injustices corrected, and when all who have suffered for God will be both acknowledged and rewarded, and that is something that we who want to be true disciples of Jesus in this modern world, as with the Twelve starting out on their first mission, must never forget.
St. Paul followed the mind and took up the purpose of Jesus when he told his converts in Corinth who were seeking to overcome the notorious corruption and depravity of that great sea-port:
The natural person does not accept what pertains to the Spirit of God, for to him it is foolishness, and he cannot understand it, because it is judged spiritually.
And, because the Christian message is ultimately about redemption through the Cross of Jesus, St. Paul said quite clearly:
The message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. (1 Corinthians 2:14; 1:18)
Therefore, for the Church and for all God's good people, there will inevitably be much obloquy, suffering, and disadvantage to be experienced and indeed embraced in our time on earth, in the course of which we are neither to fear nor rebel; for both fear and rebellion come from looking at ourselves, our situation and our possibilities, whereas our hopes and expectations as Christians should all be centred on God. St. Paul learned to wait on the Lord in this way through his many sufferings for Christ and he tells us what Jesus told the Twelve:
(Do not fear men) for the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength. (1 Corinthians 1:25)
Jesus Himself offered His disciples three motives for rejecting fear. First of all, if you are going to fear, He said, at least fear Him Who is supremely powerful:
Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. But rather fear Him Who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.
That is basic reality and all true spirituality has to be built on reality.
However, Jesus did not limit Himself to correcting earthly fears with the greater danger and threat of supernatural loss. Such a corrective measure can indeed hold a man back from sin, but it will hardly ever lead one to virtue, let alone love. Therefore, He gave the apostles, and us, further advice:
Are not two sparrows sold for a copper coin? And not one of them falls to the ground apart from your Father's will. (Why) the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Do not fear therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows.
People of God, when our world seeks at all levels and on all occasions to justify itself, when people generally are filled with ideas of their own righteousness and totally opposed to seeing themselves as responsible before God for any sins, it is of the utmost importance for us Catholics and Christians to entertain right thoughts and develop attitudes which are spiritually healthy and productive. First of all, we must, with the Apostles, cast out of our hearts all fear of men. Then we must remember and realize that our natural fear is meant to relate us above all to the God Who made us, for fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and at times only a healthy fear of the Lord can save us from the solicitations of sin and the morally corrosive fear of men. Then, however, since love is the truest motive power of any human being’s life, we must learn to love aright. We all learn to love by being loved ourselves, and that is why Jesus went on to make clear to His apostles the love that the heavenly Father had for them:
Why, the very hairs of your head are all numbered by the heavenly Father;
And His own appreciation of their courageous efforts:
Everyone who confesses Me before men, I will also confess him before My Father who is in heaven.
Therefore, let us not look with fear at men, nor with anxious solicitude at our own selves, but rather let us confidently commit ourselves to the Spirit of the Lord working in our lives, and allow Him to lead us along the way of the Lord and Saviour we know and love, into the presence of Him Who is above all, in all, and through all, the One eternal Father, waiting to embrace us, in Jesus, as His own true and beloved children for eternity.