Saturday 24 June 2017

Sunday, June 25, 2017 - Do not be afraid

To read the texts click on the texts: Jer 20:10-13; Rom 5:12-15;Mt 10:26-33

During his years as premier of the Soviet Union, Nikita Khrushchev denounced many of the policies and atrocities of Joseph Stalin. Once, as he censured Stalin in a public meeting, Khrushchev was interrupted by a shout from a heckler in the audience. “You were one of Stalin’s colleagues. Why didn’t you stop him?” “Who said that?” roared Khrushchev. An agonizing silence followed as nobody in the room dared move a muscle. Then Khrushchev replied quietly, “Now you know why.” It is not always easy to stand up and be counted.

The Gospel text of today deals with what it takes to stand up and be counted. It is part of Matthew’s Mission Discourse in which Jesus, after commissioning his disciples, gives them both instruction for and exhortation in Mission. Today’s reading deals with exhortation. The words “Do not be afraid” appear three times. ‘Do not be afraid to be open about faith, do not be afraid of powerful opponents, and do not be afraid about what future holds in store. All three lay in God’s hands.’ The message therefore is this: Confidence in God’s presence and promise even in the midst of persecution. The message is: ‘Do not be afraid to stand up and be counted because God is on the side of those who fight for justice and the truth.’

It is possible that fear might lead to the disciples remaining silent and not communicating the message of Jesus, which is a message of the Kingdom. While the disciples should expect persecution, they should not be paralyzed by fear. They must continue to give bold witness to the message entrusted to them that in Jesus and his words and works, the Kingdom of heaven has indeed come. The disciples will be tempted to give up when things get difficult, but they are called to persevere till the end with the witness that they must give. The ideas expressed in this part of the Gospel are similar to the first reading from Jeremiah.

After castigating the leaders for not obeying God’s word and warning them that therefore they would be conquered by Babylon, Jeremiah is scourged and put in stocks by Passhur, the head of the temple police. The text of today, spoken after his release, includes Jeremiah’s sixth lament, in which he begins by railing at God for “enticing” him into proclaiming God’s message and then allowing him to be mocked and shamed. Though he is tempted to give up his vocation of being a prophet (and so speaking God’s word on behalf of God) because he is aware that people are plotting against him, he perseveres. This perseverance results from his confidence in the fact that God will come to his aid and deliver him from his enemies.

These enemies cannot do real harm, because though physical death is indeed a possibility for a disciple of Jesus, it will only be a transition, says Jesus. God’s power is much more than even death. All that happens to the disciple is known by God. As surely as God knows the comings and goings of even the littlest bird, so he knows everything that happens to the disciple. He is always the one who is in charge. He is “father” to the disciples and so the disciples are related to Jesus as brothers and sisters. This relationship between the Father, Jesus and the disciples must lead to witnessing to Jesus and all that he stands for including justice and truth and to hope for the future.

The best example of this confidence according to the reading from Romans is Jesus himself. He was obedient unlike Adam; he remained sinless and faithful unlike Adam and thus made grace reign freely where there would have been universal condemnation. He dared to stand up and be counted. He was unafraid even in the face of ignominy, persecution and death. Thus through his life, mission, death and resurrection Jesus has given his disciples the example they must follow, the path they must take and the way they must walk.

To walk this way continues to be difficult especially today when fears of all kinds continue to dominate our lives and take control of us, not allowing us to be the kind of persons we are meant to be. There are numerous people who will try their best to stifle the message of justice and peace; simply because it is beneficial to them do so. There are many who will try to shut down the voices of those who protest against discrimination and violence.

By looking to Jesus we see that the trials and sufferings of this life, especially what we face as we try to live out and share our faith, are short-lived. We should, therefore, not give in to fear; knowing that in the end truth will triumph over untruth, justice over injustice, and eternal life over death, as we are able to see already in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus.

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