Our daily mantra – ‘Be not afraid’ Matthew 10: 26–33
By Fr Donald Chambers
In today’s gospel, Jesus assures and comforts the disciples with the words, “Be not afraid”. The mere fact that it occurs three times in this eight-verse passage means that it’s certainly significant.
Fear is a reality for every human person. The Jewish author and Rabbi, Harold Kushner, reminds us that there is real fear, imaginary fear, and exaggerated fear. Imaginary fear is envisaging, for example, a slight headache to be brain cancer, while exaggerated fear is failing a job interview and concluding that the interviewer hated you. However, real fear to which Jesus refers, I believe, is the result of moments that are volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity (VUCA), such as the COVID-19 pandemic.
With the advent of the pandemic, many persons fear the loss of jobs, imprisoned in their houses, contracting the virus, insufficient money to buy basic food, the prohibition of physical touch, or attending Mass.
As Dr Marc Siegel, author of False Alarm: The Truth About the Epidemic of Fear writes, “Our infectious fears spread faster than any bacteria and ignite a sense of [imminent danger] that far eclipses the reality.”
While writing his gospel of Jesus Christ for the Christian community, Matthew was undoubtedly cognisant of the community’s reality. Writing to a community consisting of both Jews and Greeks in Antioch (Acts 12:1, 19:1), it is highly probable that Matthew felt deeply the community’s fear as a result of the stoning to death of James, head of the community, the excommunication of Christians from the synagogues, and the persecution of Christians by the emperor Nero (64-65AD).
Given this era of volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity, including Jesus’ words “Do not be afraid” in his gospel would have been like honey to bees for the Christians.
In the first instance, Jesus says, “Do not be afraid of them”. Jesus is conscious that the preaching ministry will generate fear among the disciples. In a climate in which the gospel of Jesus Christ was unpopular and unwelcoming particularly to the religious and political officials, there was no guarantee of a safe passage for the Early Church.
In this hostile and cruel context, the antidote or medicine for His disciples is trusting in God who promises His eternal presence “until the end of time,” and the conviction that God is the ultimate judge, not those with earthly power. Therefore, He instructs the disciples, “what you hear in whispers, proclaim from the housetops”.
In the second case, Jesus says, “Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul”. Jesus and the Early Church know the stark reality of earthly powers or rulers whose intent is to silence opposing religious and political voices by cruel and dehumanising means.
The phrase, “do not be afraid” assures them that earthly power is not ultimate power. Therefore, He invites them to possess appropriate fear which is respect or honour to God who has ultimate power over the human soul. This is where real power lies. This was the conviction that inspired and empowered hundreds of Christians of the first century to shed their blood for Jesus Christ.
In the third instance, Jesus reassures, “So there is no need to be afraid; you are worth more than hundreds of sparrows”. Interestingly and wisely, Jesus utilises one of the cheapest bird on sale in the market, a sparrow, as a teaching tool. Jesus argues that if God takes care of this, the cheapest, then how much more will God take care of them who are worth more than the sparrows.
As the Caribbean faces ongoing crises—the pandemic, hurricanes, food security and unemployment—fear awaits us around the corner. Today’s gospel challenges us not to use power and control as the antidote to fear, but the grace of vulnerability. Vulnerability means daring to embrace uncertainty, take risks, and willing to expose our emotions (Brené Brown).
Today, Pope Francis witnesses to this spirituality of vulnerability as he pastorally guides the Church through the uncertainty of the pandemic, risk Church reforms, and expresses openly his own feelings.
Let our daily mantra be, “Be not afraid” as we embrace uncertainty, take risks, and express our emotions wisely.
The gospel meditations for June are by Fr Donald Chambers of the Archdiocese of Kingston, Jamaica who currently serves as the General Secretary of the Antilles Episcopal Conference Secretariat, St Clair.