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12th Sunday in Ordinary Time (25.06.17)
“Fear no one.” “Do not be afraid.”
Jesus’ use of the imperative underlines the non-negotiability of his statement. The imperative opens the Matthew Gospel extract for the 12th Sunday (10:26). Jesus’ teaching, to his Twelve Apostles, underlines the truth that fear is a crippling and permanent feature of human life on this earth.
Previously in the Garden of Eden, also known as Paradise, our first parents knew no fear. From Genesis 3:8 we can deduce that God walked with Adam and Eve in the garden and they were unafraid either of God or of each other in their nakedness. The bedevilment of fear originates with Satan who deftly and successfully used it to invade the free will of our first parents.
Their original breaking of God’s commandment made them Eden’s exiles. It incarcerated them in Satan’s kingdom and subjected them and their successors, including us, to the ravages of multi-faceted fear. Currently, our world can be truly frightening. At so many levels there is the promotion of deliberate disharmony bringing a fear-induced disintegration of society affecting both families and nations. For example, the upheavals of the Trump administration in the USA, plus the number of European countries with very divided views on the EU, migration, control of borders etc. It is unsurprising that people may choose not to take stock of the reality. Among those who do, many hold up their hands in despair. Yet, our world does not have to be like this.
Jesus would never lay a commandment upon us without granting us freedom of access to the grace necessary for fulfilling it. It is our responsibility to make, daily, a prayer based application for the grace which we need as a support for our willed choice. Yesterday’s prayer does not serve tomorrow! As Sr. Mary Xavier’s hymn expresses it: “Lord, for tomorrow and its needs I do not pray; keep me, my God, from stain of sin, just for today.” The natural antidote to fear is an inner wholeness. Pope emeritus Benedict XVl expresses it thus: “Only if truth and love are in agreement can humanity be happy: only truth makes us free.”
Jesus, God’s only begotten Son-made-Man, offers a true sense of direction and purpose in this Sunday’s Gospel (Matt: 10:26-33):
“Jesus said to the Twelve:
Fear no one ….…. do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul; rather, be afraid of the one who can destroy both soul and body in Hell.”
But are people listening in this 21st. century? Are we, who in real time hear the Gospel being proclaimed, truly listening? If all the Baptised were truly listening and responding would there not be an irresistible surge of unified purposefulness that would impact upon political decisions at governmental level because, in true democracies, the public vote holds the power.
As love and truth are not in agreement humanity lacks true happiness. Consequently, lacking a true sense of direction and purpose, public opinion is tossed around in the maelstrom of international and national political uncertainty perpetually stirred up by the, at times, irresponsibility shown by some instant communication outlets. Yet, our world does not have to be like this.
A committed Christian must love the world enough, despite its violence, to want it to be as God intended. She or he must be willing to ‘step up to the plate’. The receiving of Holy Communion is also a proclamation of willingness to step into and be prophetically active in the space where the world’s chosen way of acting contradicts the Gospel and proclaim: ‘It should not be like this. It doesn’t have to be like this.’
The prophet Jeremiah, in today’s First Reading (20:10-13), laments the negativity he constantly met among his own people when he spoke God’s message to them. Jeremiah’s words strongly resemble the hostility believers in God encounter in our 21st century. As Pope Francis has pointed out – ‘in the Church’s history there have never been more martyrs than there are today’. Very recently in China the authorities held another Catholic bishop under house arrest without cause. They wanted to prevent the bishop celebrating the Mass of Chrism with his priests and people in Holy Week. Without the bishop there could be no Mass of Chrism, itself a celebration of Sacramental union with the universal Church at the local level. He was but one among many more Catholic bishops in China who are actively prevented from fulfilling their ministry of service and leadership.
Martyrdom knows many forms other than the spilling of blood. There is much evidence of masked hostility towards Christianity in Western Europe. It breaks surface from time to time with media sensationalism about the wearing of a crucifix or the saying of a prayer in public. But the real hostility goes on at a much deeper level where, for example, the natural careers of breadwinners are derailed because of their religious affiliation.
One cannot be a committed and active Christian, within the spiritual desert that is Western Europe, without that desert impacting on one’s life in some way. This desert-impact becomes the place of encounter. It was soon after Jesus had been Baptised than the Spirit led him into the desert of the Judean wilderness and he encountered Satan. It was Jesus’ moment of commitment and consecration. Satan’s temptations presented Jesus with alternative ways of, apparently, accomplishing his messianic mission. Jesus rejects each temptation because it is either testing God or rejecting God. Underlying each temptation was the lure of blasphemy because the temptations were focused on the glorification of Jesus not on his commitment to his heavenly Father. (Matthew 4:1-11)
The Son of God-made-Man, faced with the diabolical power of Satan, repeatedly asserts the absolute sovereignty of God and his own dependence upon God alone. In the desert, at the outset of his public ministry, and again, three years later, in the Garden of Gethsemane on the night of his arrest, Jesus gave us a masterclass in how to harmonise truth and love when he demonstrated true Sonship and fidelity (John 18: 1-11)
Fear might induce us to fly from a world of such corruption and disfiguration. By instructing us to “Fear no one” and not to be afraid, Jesus is encouraging us to follow in his footsteps, to engage with the world which is in the grip of Satan (1 John 5:19). We are to make our Baptismal journey as a pilgrimage for the world in which the Holy Spirit will bring us to a deeper generosity of service. The Spirit will show us how to be a source of true life in the man-made desert of our affluent society.
There were some remarkable television programmes over recent weeks revealing how deserts, far from being sterile places, were inhabited by many living creatures not immediately obvious to the human eye. Desert dwellers, be they human or non-human, have to learn how to live on the edge of survival in a vastness that can only be truly known by God.