TWELFTH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME YEAR A
Readings: Jer. 20:10-13; Ps. 69…; Rom. 5:12-15; Matt. 10:26-33
Certain events in my life have given me a lot of insights about being afraid and fearing. It is important to note that there is a difference between being afraid and fearing. Thus, we are to “Have fear but do not be afraid.” Jesus says: “Do not be afraid of those who can kill the body but cannot kill the soul; fear rather him who has the power to make both the soul and the body perish in Gehenna.” We must not be afraid of, nor fear human beings; we must fear God but not be afraid of him.
There is a significant difference between being afraid and fearing and I would like to say that being afraid is a manifestation of our fundamental instinct for self-preservation. It is a reaction to a threat to our life, the response to a real or perceived danger, whether this be the greatest danger of all, death, or particular dangers that threaten our security, health or psychosocial well-being. Jesus says: “Do not be afraid of those who can kill the body but cannot kill the soul; fear rather him who has the power to make both the soul and the body perish in Gehenna/hell.” There is something of ours that nothing and no one in the world can truly take away from us or damage: For believers it is the immortal soul; for everyone it is the testimony of their own conscience.
Fear is quite different from being afraid. Fear in the strict sense ought to be associated with God. Hence, “The fear of the Lord.” The fear of God is a virtue we learn or ask for. The Psalmist says: “Come, my children, listen to me, I will teach you the fear of the Lord” (34:12); being afraid, on the other hand, does not need to be learned at school; it overtakes us suddenly in the face of danger; the things themselves bring about our being afraid. Fear is one of the fruit of faith and love and it flows from our knowledge and admiration of God based on His awesomeness and immensity. This is the fear of offending our loving God and is often called “the beginning of wisdom” because it leads to making the right choices in life. Indeed it is one of the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit! (cf. Isaiah 11:2).
What are you afraid of? Whom are you afraid of? If we can answer this question, I assure us we can enjoy life to the full. We are all afraid in varying degrees. Some of us are afraid of the future, some of us are afraid of making mistakes, some are afraid of dying, some are afraid of making huge amount of money, some are afraid of sicknesses and diseases, some are afraid of examinations and failure in businesses, some are afraid of standing up to be counted as Christians, some are afraid of God and interestingly, some are even afraid of themselves! Today we hear one of the greatest teachings of Jesus Christ: Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul; rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell” (Matt. 10:28).
Three times in today’s Gospel we hear Jesus saying, “Do not be afraid.” Beautifully, this expression occurs 366 times in the Bible. The reason why Jesus tells us these words is that the Heavenly Father has great concern for us all. He knows us well, our person, our well-being, and our needs. If the Father watches over the life and death of the smallest and least valuable creatures (sparrows), how much more will he watch over his children in all their trials (Matt. 10:31). Prophet Jeremiah in the first reading tells us to expel from our minds all fears and worries because God is with us and he will protect us from all evil. He invites us therefore to commit our cause to God. At the same time St Paul in the second reading tells us that the grace of God is great and it is a free gift given to us in and through Jesus. That is the reason why we do not have any reason to worry or fear. Hence the central theme of today’s readings is that we should expel all fears and anxieties from our minds by cherishing an unshakable confidence in the never failing providence of God.
Why are we afraid? First we fear because we are afraid of fear. Secondly, we fear because we think we can be free of fear. And thirdly, we fear because we have failed to accept our fears and properly prioritised them. But Jesus offers us a principle to apply and overcome fear. He says, “Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul; rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell” (Matt. 10:28). Truth must be told. There is nowhere in the Scriptures where we are told that our life in God will be a bed of roses all the way; that life as a Christian will be devoid of fears. It follows that we need to rightly prioritise our fears. We need to channel our fears in order for us to benefit rather than waste them. We need to know how to live our lives in the face of fears and their challenges. From our readings today, we have come to know that in the midst of the world’s struggles and difficulties we can find a place of safety and power. When we are grounded in the Lord Jesus Christ, issues of life cannot scare us because our God is a mighty hero.
Mind you, Jesus is not saying in the world we shall be free from challenges, but that in our tough moments, difficulties and trials we should discover our connectedness to Him who is the greatest power in heaven and on earth and not be afraid of our situations. It is not the case of look my troubles have all disappeared but it is the case that in all my troubles, I can sense a great power in me. For the one who is in me is greater than the one who is in the world (1John 4:4). When you are in Christ, you dwell and operate in the interior castle in the language of St. Teresa of Avila. So, the call is to find courage in Christ and live above our negativities of life. We are invited to trust God who is the author and finisher of our faith (Heb.12:2) and nothing else, nothing more and nothing less.