Jun. 21, 2020

TWELFTH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME

Being God-fearing and not world-fearing 

Readings: 1st- Jer. 20:10-13; 2nd-Rom. 5:12-15; Gospel- Matt. 10:26-33

In difficult times, God can be perceived as a “cold, distant, project manager.” He can be seen as having abandoned us on site. Yes, and so we’re left in the sun to suffer, lament, and feel lonely. That’s what it looks like in today’s readings. First, Jeremiah faces critical times as a prophet. He laments ”terror on every side,” vehement opposition from the priest Pashhur and his team. They wish that he be dead because he speaks the bitter truth. They hatch plans to eliminate the prophet because he condemns their evil ways. Jeremiah is not deterred. He identifies the source of his strength. Although frustrated by their perverse attitude, knows God’s strength, “But the Lord is with me, like a mighty champion: my persecutors will stumble, they will not triumph.” With God, Jeremiah is not confined in the present but looks hopefully to the future. It’s important to see what lies ahead, “Sing to the Lord, praise the Lord, for he has rescued the life of the poor from the power of the wicked” (Jer. 20:13). 

Christ reminds us of the challenges of discipleship when he sends out his apostles, “Fear no one.” He impresses upon them the enormity of the missionary challenge and that a great risk faces those called to evangelize. Like in Jeremiah’s time, earthly powers and forces of darkness will stand on the way of witnessing. God’s children must be ready for battle; attacks and possibly physical deaths will be part of the story. Christ says, “Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul.” 

Whom to fear! The one who can condemn the soul to hell. On this day that we celebrate Father’s Day, it might be proper to identify the various categories of fear that confront our lives: physical fear: the body is afraid of hurt. The body feels threatened by objects that are visible to the senses. It feels exposed to dangers. The body craves for safety from physical threats. Emotional fear: generated in the mind. The brain communicates the presence of harmful objects to the mind. The mind feels unsafe, traumatized, and insecure. It forces the body to go into a fight/flight/freeze mode. These fears can be caused by human or environmental factors which could result from past and present discomforting conditions. Fears can be as a result of things that might be either present or missing in a person’s life. Physical and emotional fears are real, but Jesus impresses upon his apostles a higher level of fear: fear of spiritual death, “be afraid of the one who can destroy both soul and body in Gehenna.” 

Saint Paul helps us to understand this message better in the second reading when he personifies sin and death as he reminds his audience, “Through one man sin entered the world, and through sin, death, and thus death came to all men, inasmuch as all sinned.” Sin has the capacity to lure people away from God and the capacity to kill the soul. Sin deprives humans of the divine life that God bestowed on us. It renders the sinner hopeless and leads to final death. Christ warns against such death and challenges us on what to be afraid of. 

Theology teaches us about two notions of fear concerning God- servile fear and filial fear. In relation to the human experience, physical and emotional threats lead to servile fear. We fear those who hurt us because they cause pain to us. We fear those who oppose us because they can harm our bodies. We fear those who can punish us and try to run away from them. Sin can make us fear God that way if we fail to understand how much He loves and values us. Our fear for God should be reverential. We fear him as our Father who cares for us. We should be afraid of sin because it offends God. It takes us away from God’s love. Christ makes this clear to us, “Even all the hairs on your head are counted.” God knows that you’re more than many sparrows and has got your back, hence Christ tells us, “So do not be afraid.”

Today’s world needs fathers and men who are God-fearing and not world fearing. Society is hungry for men who stand with God, for his truth and justice. Families need men who communicate God’s love to their members. We need men who bear witness to God’s greatness, men who boldly defend their faith. We need men who understand that God is first and needs our utmost attention. We need men who are not afraid to bring back society into God’s harmony. We need men who cherish their being men, being fathers, being husbands, and leaders in a healthy way. We need men who teach their children that fear does not provide answers to their questions, concerns, and anxieties. We need men who, like Jeremiah live out their prophetic roles. We need men who understand that present circumstances can fade away while God’s love doesn’t; men who live for the future. God is always in control, even in difficult circumstances, financial problems, family problems, societal upheaval. We need men who are meek, not weak. Meekness leads with quiet strength. Jesus leads the way in quiet strength. We need men who imitate Jesus and families will follow them. We need men who live beyond mere physical and emotional satisfaction. We need men who are genuinely compassionate and persevering in their roles. We need men who understand that God has got their backs and that every hair on their head has been counted. 

To you men out there, Christ says, “Do not be afraid!” Do not be afraid to stand for the truth even if it hurts. Do not be emotionally or physically shaken when you defend your faith. Do not be afraid to lead your families- your children back to the truth. Do not be afraid that the world threatens you for standing on the side of justice. Do not be afraid of what might be considered as losses by the world when you are expressing your faith. To have Jesus is to have everything. He will surely acknowledge you before God on the last day for being steadfast in your role as his witness in the world. Being world-fearing pays in the short-run, being God-fearing has eternal rewards.