Jesus summoned His twelve disciples and gave them authority over unclean spirits to drive them out and to cure every disease and every illness. (Mt. 10:1)
My dear brothers and sisters in Christ, Our Blessed Lord was preparing to send the Twelve on a mission to Israel, exclusively; and in today’s gospel episode we heard Him warning them what to expect and how to deal with it as disciples of His: witnessing to, and practicing, His Truth.
He wanted to encourage them to fear neither those who would speak evil of them nor, indeed, those who might even seek to kill them: Fear no one!
If they have called the master of the house Beelzebub, how much more will they call those of his household! Therefore, do not fear them.
Or, in today’s world-society, one might transcribe it, ‘If they have called Me and My Gospel discriminatory, divisive, how much more will they call you, ‘Racist, racist, racist!’, for preaching what is not popular: preaching what calls for disciplined courage and humble understanding now, while promising and even initiating rewards that transfigure life as we know it.
Then, continuing, He tells them as you heard in today’s Gospel reading:
Fear no one! Nothing is concealed that will not be revealed, no secret that will not be known.
St. Paul (1 Corinthians 4:5) helps us understand those words when he writes:
(When) the Lord comes, He will bring to light what is hidden in darkness and will manifest the motives of our hearts, and then everyone will receive praise from God;
so, let us now, with that guidance, give close attention to one who heard the words of the Lord, treasured them in his heart, and brought forth fruit in due time.
The prophet Jeremiah suffered much from malicious tongues, and survived the attempts of powerful enemies to kill him. As you heard him speaking in the first reading:
I have heard the whispering of many, "Terror on every side! Denounce him; yes, let us denounce him!" All my trusted friends, watching for my fall, say: "Perhaps he will be deceived, so that we may prevail against him and take our revenge on him." But the LORD is with me like a dread champion; therefore, my persecutors will stumble and not prevail. They will be utterly ashamed, because they have failed, with an everlasting disgrace that will not be forgotten. Yet, O LORD of hosts, You who test the righteous, who sees the mind and the heart, let me see Your vengeance on them, for to You I have set forth my cause. Sing to the LORD, praise the LORD, for He has delivered the soul of the needy one from the hand of evildoers!
You can guess from that passage that Jeremiah had a hard time proclaiming the word of God to a people who did not want even to hear the word, let alone obey it. However, notice what was happening to Jeremiah as he persevered in his work for God: he was himself being formed into the likeness of Jesus by the very sufferings which he encountered as he walked obediently along the way of God’s command.
I have heard the whispering of many, "Terror on every side! Denounce (him), yes, let us denounce him!" All my trusted friends, watching for my fall, say: "Perhaps he will be deceived, so that we may prevail against him and take our revenge on him."
Surely you recognize there the Scribes and Pharisees, the Sadducees and the lawyers, whispering about Jesus, maligning Him before the people, and plotting to hand Him over to the Romans? Can you catch a glimpse of Judas too, his trusted friend setting a trap for Him and taking 30 pieces of silver as a reward?
Jeremiah soon had occasion to praise the Lord for His goodness to him for we find him crying out shortly afterwards:
Sing to the LORD, praise the LORD, for He has delivered the life of the poor from the hand of evildoers!!
But only when Jesus is freed from the sufferings of His crucifixion and the ignominy of His burial by His Resurrection from the dead are those words of Jeremiah to be seen in all their beauty and understood in the fullness of their significance:
Sing to the LORD! Praise the LORD! For He has delivered the soul of the needy one from the hand of evildoers!!
As you heard, Jeremiah prophesied concerning those who were persecuting him:
The LORD is with me, like a dread champion; therefore, my persecutors will stumble and not prevail. They will be utterly ashamed, because they have failed, with an everlasting disgrace that will not be forgotten.
Were not those words fulfilled absolutely in the case of the opponents of Jesus? Did the soldiers sent to take Him not fall back? Have not the Scribes and the Pharisees, the doctors of the Law and the Temple authorities, one and all, been covered with an everlasting disgrace for their persecution of the Lord of Light?
So you can see, People of God, that Jeremiah, by remaining faithful through his tribulations, was being formed, by those very sufferings, into a likeness of Him Who was to come, that he might thereby be enabled to share in Jesus’ future glory, and to live a life that would serve for the comforting and strengthening of all who – like himself -- would faithfully hear and proclaim the words of their Lord. For Jeremiah not only courageously proclaimed the Word of God in his time, but he also served to forewarn and thus to protect God’s Chosen People of Israel for what would eventually turn out to be their great stone of stumbling, the Messiah coming as a Suffering Servant:
Meek and riding on an ass and on a colt, the foal of a beast of burden (Mt. 21:5),
not as a warrior-champion reining-in his prancing stallion.
And so, though Jeremiah lived some 600 years before Jesus, we Christians hold him in special honour today: as a prophet of God, indeed, but also as more than a prophet: one who not only (like the great Isaiah) foretold the Suffering Servant, but one who was most specially privileged to personally pre-figure the suffering Son of Man. Finally, however, above and beyond the expectations and needs of the Jewish people, Jeremiah has also a special significance for us Christians in so far as he helps us to recognize and appreciate more of the truth and the beauty, the wisdom and the goodness, of the Father Who loves us to the extent that He gave His only begotten Son up to such suffering and to such a death for our salvation.
People of God, that is what happens to all disciples of the Lord who walk according to His word fearing neither malicious tongues nor violent threats: they are gradually formed in the likeness of Jesus by the Spirit of Jesus Who, dwelling within them, sustains and uplifts them in and through all their trials. Those who turn away from the Lord through fear of verbal and physical violence break off contact with the Spirit of Jesus, being unable to entrust themselves to His power, and are left in their sinfulness and powerlessness. On the other hand, those who trust, abide, and at times suffer, in and with the Lord, enjoy the sweetness of the Gift of God, that is, the presence of the Spirit of Jesus, Who abounds in them -- as St. Paul told us – and, becoming increasingly powerful within them, forms them ever more closely in the likeness and love of Jesus.
Remember, dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ, the words of Jesus at the end of today’s Gospel:
Whoever confesses Me before men, him I will also confess before My Father Who is in heaven. But whoever denies Me before men, I will also deny before My Father Who is in heaven.”
Let those words be etched in your memory and on your heart: fear the Lord Who will make those words reality at the end; and, fearing Him reverentially, do not fear subserviently any man’s violence or any woman’s tongue.