Be Not Afraid!, 12th Sunday in Ordinary Time (A), June 23, 2002

Fr. Roger J. Landry
St. Charles Borromeo, San Diego, CA
12th Sunday of Ordinary Time, Year A
June 23, 2002
Jer 20:10-13; Ps 68; Rom 5:12-15; Mt 10:26-33

1) Fear not! Be not afraid! So Jesus said to the apostles in the Gospel and so he says to each of us today. The message is as timely now as it ever was. Pope John Paul II, in his first words of the first homily he ever gave as Pope, said “Be not afraid!,” and he’s been losing his voice repeating that phrase ever since, because he recognizes just how much we need to hear these words, because fear permeates our age. Some people have even said that human life is just a long succession of fears. As babies, we fear darkness and loud noises or when we can no longer see our mother’s face. As young children, we fear bullies and doing poorly at school. As teenagers, we begin to fear all types of things — peer pressure, failure, pimples, the impulses within us for the opposite sex, whether we’ll be able to find a good job or get into college — all the while thinking that finally when we become adults, the fears will stop. As adults, however, we discover that the fears don’t stop, they just change, and even increase. We fear for our kids’ safety, we fear for the future, we fear losing our jobs, we fear terrorists, and as we get on in years we begin to fear that most terrible of fears, pain and death.

2) Against all of these fears Jesus tells us again today “be not afraid!” And Jesus does not do so naively. Having taken flesh of the Virgin Mary and become fully man, he knows everything human beings experience except sin. He knows what fear is. He knows what pain is and experienced it himself. He knows what death is and entered into it fully. He knows it all. And he tells us not once, not twice, but 16 times in the Gospels, “Do not be afraid!” So, today, he calls us to look at our fears and then to look at Him and at our faith in Him, so that we will allow him to take away our fears and begin to live fully as his disciples.

3) In order to allow God to get rid of our fears, we first need to look at where fear comes from.When you come right down to it, fear comes ultimately from a lack of trust, a lack of faith, in God. It doesn’t matter what type of fear we’re talking about. Whether we’re dealing with poverty, pain, helplessness, strained relationships, we cannot see how these things might help us or how God could allow them to happen to us if he were really there and loved us. St. Paul — who suffered tremendously for the faith and from a simply human point of view might have feared all types of thing — once wrote to the Romans about why he was not afraid. He gave us a very clear reason: “Everything works out for the good for those who love God.” EVERYTHING WORKS OUT FOR THE GOOD OF THOSE WHO LOVE AND TRUST IN GOD, so he saw no reason at all to fear. When he was chased from one village to the other, he trusted in God, because he knew that He was Lord of heaven and earth. When he was scorned and hated by others, beaten up, tortured and left for dead, he trusted in the Lord, who said, ““Blessed are you when people hate you, and when they exclude you, revile you, and defame you on account of the Son of Man. Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, for surely your reward is great in heaven.” When he was imprisoned and had his liberty taken away, he still trusted, because he knew the Lord who had come to set captives free would at the appointed time free him and therefore proudly introduced himself as an “ambassador in chains.” When they threatened to kill him, as they did Jeremiah in the first reading, Paul recalled the words of the Lord Jesus from today’s Gospel, “Do not fear those who can kill the body but cannot kill the soul.” Paul not only wrote that everything works out for the good for those who loved God, but LIVED that truth. Jesus lived that truth. And we’re called to do the same.

4) But what do we do against our fears? Does Jesus want us just to pretend that they’re not there? No. Jesus does not simply tell us not to be afraid, but shows and gives us the way to overcome our fears. We overcome them by real living faith and trust in God our Father who loves us and will take care of us. Listen carefully to what Jesus says to each of us during today’s Gospel: “Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. And even the hairs of your head are all counted. So do not be afraid; you are of more value than many sparrows.” No bird even lands on the ground, Jesus tells us, without the Father’s knowing it. If he cares so much for them, how much greater must he care for us. Jesus says he knows exactly how many strands of hair each of us has. Do you know how many strands of hair you have? Experts tell us that a typical red head with a full head of hair has about 90,000 strands, a brown and black haired person about 120,000 and a blond person about 150,000. Yet God knows exactly. That’s how intimate is his knowledge and his love of us. We’re called to trust in him. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus goes even further. Listen to him: “Do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life? … Strive first for the kingdom of God and his holiness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” The solution to our fears is two-fold: (1) to trust in God the Father and in his providence and then (2) strive above all for his kingdom, trusting completely in God. These are two sides of the same coin. If we really trust in God the Father, then we will strive first for his kingdom and holiness, and if we’re holy and seeking to live our lives in constant loving relationship with him, then we will have no fear, because we will see like St. Paul that everything works out for the good for those who love God. Notice, too, that if Jesus is saying that we should not worry about the actual things that we really need in life — what we will eat, drink, and wear, without which we’ll die — then he’s saying that we should all the more not worry about all those other things in life that we worry about that we really don’t need, bigger houses, televisions, promotions, prestige, and more and more money.

5) But we still have to make what Jesus is teaching us today more concrete. In order to understand how he can say “Be not afraid!,” how there can be an all-loving and all-powerful Father in the midst of a world with so much pain and evil, and how St. Paul can write, “Everything works out for the good for those who love God,” we have to understand that God (Father Son and Holy Spirit), that St. Paul and all the saints, have a ONE-TRACK MIND. There is one “good” for which everything works out for those who love God. One good. And it’s not human wealth or riches. Jesus never promised that everything would work out for the good of our bank account. It’s not a life of luxury and pleasure with no suffering or pain. Jesus never promised that we’d have that if we loved him. It’s not a life of glamor, acclaim, prestige and fame. Jesus didn’t promise us any of those things. It’s not even a lots of friends and a calm, peaceful, loving family life. Sometimes our love for God may divide members of our family from us if they don’t love God. The good he promises — no matter what else happens to us — the good that the world cannot give and nothing in the world take away — is the good of an eternal life of love with God, the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. If our treasure is in the kingdom of God, if our treasure is in our soul and its eternal call to share a life of love with God, then we have nothing to fear, because God can and will make all things work out best for us. That is the good we’re talking about. Why fear losing our job? God may make us holier through unemployment or may want us to do something else with the gift of life he’s given us. Why fear the violence that others might want to do to us? Even if Osama bin Laden were here in this Church this morning, we’d have nothing to fear, because God may want for our own good to take us to eternal life right now. Or to have us forgive them while we’re dying, just as Jesus did and just as St. Stephen did, so that others may be converted, just like St. Paul was converted at Stephen’s stoning. Why fear flunking a test, or getting dumped by a girlfriend or boyfriend or any other thing? It might just be that God wants to give us something even greater than what we want, but which he wouldn’t be able to do if we passed that test, or married that person, etc.

6) In other words, in order for us to be able to put into practice Jesus’ command, “Be not afraid!” — and who of us would not beg right now to have all our fears removed, so Jesus’ command is as timely now as ever? — we have to have the SAME ONE-TRACK MIND that God does. We have to realize that the only thing that really matters is our salvation, our relationship with God — my salvation and the salvation of others, whom God loves even more than we do. That we have to “seek first, seek above all, the kingdom of heaven.” If we make this relationship with God our real treasure, then God promises that everything else that happens to us he’ll use to help us to grow closer to him, to eternity, to salvation, and nothing, even death, will be able to take this away. There are two corollaries: The first is that we’ll only really fear if we’re placing our treasure in other things, things which can be taken away. The second is that we really should have only one fear — hell — and what can lead to it, sin. As Jesus said in the Gospel, “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.” And if we have this one fear, the fear of hell and what leads to it, sin, then we should have a great love for the gift of the sacrament of confession, where our sins our taken away.

7) Today we have a choice to make. A choice to live in fear or a choice to live in faith. There is no third option. At this Mass, God the Father wants to help us choose as his Son has invited us to choose. Not only has the Father nourished us with this Word of God, telling us (and not just suggesting to us) not to be afraid, but now he’s going to fulfill one of His Son’s greatest promises. Jesus said not to worry about what we are to eat and drink for our heavenly Father would feed us; at this Mass, the Father himself feeds us with the flesh and blood of his Son. As St. Paul said, “If God didn’t even spare His own Son, would he not give us everything else besides!” He’s about to give us the greatest gift this side of heaven, the foretaste of everlasting life and food for our journey in this life. Everything indeed works out for the good for those who love God. My brothers and sisters in Christ, Jesus says to us one more time, “Be not afraid!” And we’ve got nothing to fear, because we are the disciples of the One who has conquered the world!