"DO NOT BE AFRAID"
TWELFTH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME
- When Matthew wrote this passage, about fifty years after the death of Jesus, the Christian communities had already begun experiencing persecutions. In order to encourage them, the Evangelist reminded them that the Master had foreseen what would happen.
- What is the reaction of people to the inevitability of persecution?… Fear!… Jesus knows that this is the worst possible enemy of anybody who wants to announce the Gospel and tell the truth. It may be the fear of losing social position or the respect of people, or the fear of losing property, or that of being ill-treated and even killed. The trouble is that people who are afraid are not free!
- In this passage Jesus repeats three times: “Do not be afraid” and he gives reason for this
- Those who announce and proclaim the Gospel are afraid that the violence brought against them by the enemies of Jesus might make them fail their mission. Jesus reassures them. In spite of all the trials and difficulties, his message will spread and will transform the world. To be understood even better Jesus uses the example of the Rabbis who used to instruct their disciples in secret, before sending them to take part in public discussions. Their wisdom was hidden for a long time, but one day it became known. The same thing will happen to his Apostles. No enemy or evil force will be able to ruin God’s Plan. The work of his Disciples will never be useless, even if they are put to death. The example of Jesus himself throws a lot of light on this kind of situation. His enemies were sure of having defeated him and of having put an end to his message, but he rose to new life, like a seed.
- The second reason for fear arises from the prospect of being brutalised and even killed. Jesus’ answer to this is: what harm can the enemies of the Gospel do?… Insult, false accusations, beatings, taking away property, killing?… Yes, but nothing more than this. No violence can take from the Disciples the life they have received from God. Yet there is something that we must fear: “The one who can destroy both body and soul in hell”. Who is this?… Whoever and whatever can cause the Disciples to lose the divine life present in them. This is the fear that Jesus means.
- Persecution can cause fear for a third reason: it generally does not touch only one person, but often involves the relatives who may be deprived of all the things necessary for life. Jesus comforts us by reminding us of the Providence of the Father in Heaven. Jesus does not promise that nothing will happen to his Disciples, nor is he saying that they will always be spared or saved through some miraculous intervention. He simply promises that God will protect them if they are faithful. God knows everything about us. He considers us worthy of his love and attention.
- Then Jesus promises to recognise as friends, in front of his Father, all those who have declared themselves for him in front of people. Here he is not speaking of the Last Judgement, but of what he is doing every day for his friends. Fear makes us do what we are afraid of; trust makes us do what we want. Jesus’ life was all trust in the Father. He has come to share that trust with us in order to help us to overcome ‘fear’.