Matthew 10:26-33, 12th Sunday in Ordinary Time
“Do not be afraid.” It is easy to be afraid nowadays. Suffering and the risk of death are a mere distance or breath away. In the past few months, we have seen suffering and death swell by the numbers, forms, and scope—eating up life, work, and fellowship in their rampage to the farthest corners of the world. Terror, as Jeremiah the prophet in the first reading shouts, comes from every side, slowly draws near, and gnaws on our will and faith, leaving us deflated and very vulnerable. More than the threat of physical illness is the perniciousness of the various forms of human divide at this time of global catastrophe, a time that ought to bring us together, if not in compassion, at least in survival.
“Do not be afraid.” It is more than a rallying cry for us to come together to defeat a common plague or relieve us of our weariness for justice. I think it pertains to the reality that God, who has begun his good work, continues to build and work with us and for us. When I think of the call of the King in the meditation exercise of St. Ignatius, I think of His summons as a result of His decision to be with us. Come what may. He chooses us as His partners and not mere beneficiaries of the spoils of victory. It is in this territory of partnership, an intimate alliance where parties build and suffer for a common cause, that Jeremiah draws his strength to still “sing and praise the Lord”—to trust in His unfathomable justice— in spite of the creeping terror and impending death. He has his fears but he remains faithful to God. Giving into our fears creates those unthinkable possibilities: to judge the partnership as a lost cause, to be sceptical about the credibility of the partner, and to entertain the idea of betrayal as an act of saving oneself. It is what sin and evil do and do well: divide and conquer—to attack our important partnerships by playing with our fears and leave us fighting alone and amongst each other, desperate and without hope.
“Do not be afraid because God is with us”. This should not be mistaken for a tired spiritual sound bite. It is, as Jesus says in the Gospel, an instruction—a reminder of the fact that we need not give into our fears and, in doing so, protect the partnerships that have helped us coped well and move forward. Although we are free to scrutinise our partnerships, we do it to improve them. That is in a way what leads us towards holding onto God who sees our worth as “more than hundreds of sparrows” and has counted “every hair on our head”. He works with us and through us in this long and terrible darkness. He is found moving about—inspiring the brave acts of kindness, big or small, that we dispense, reminding us to be patient with our bold attempts in forming and sustaining partnerships that push back at the complex forms of evil we face, and in stirring up courage in us to continue to fight the good fight. If there is a way to overcome our fears, it is to talk about them and face them squarely. Part of it is to prayerfully consider the partnerships we have, to critique them with the purpose of refining them to be more inclusive, helpful, and loving so that we can take small steps forward with much confidence and bravery. Together.
“Do not be afraid”. “For in His great love, the Lord answers”. His answer is a gift, as Paul points out, that “considerably outweighs the effects of sin and death”. That gift is Himself, and along with it, His invitation of partnership. That partnership, we know, is being tested at this time. In these long and terrible days, it seems that more steps have been taken backwards than forward. Evil and sin lie in wait for every opportunity to keep us divided. May we exhibit the same vigilance and push back at forms of evil in every chance by remaining faithful partners and encouraging of one another.
*image from the Internet