Twelfth Sunday of Ordinary Time – Year A – Jer 20:10-13; Ps 69:8-10,14,17,33-35; Rm 5:12-15; Mt 10:26-33
Today’s readings all speak to us of two things: fear and trust in God: fear and trust. We heard the words of Jeremiah, who said “I hear the whisperings of many: ‘Terror on every side! Denounce! let us denounce him!’ All those who were my friends are on the watch for any misstep of mine.” With friends that like, there’s no need for enemies! But Jeremiah trusted in the Lord, saying: “But the LORD is with me, like a mighty champion: my persecutors will stumble, they will not triumph.” The Psalmist asks for an answer from God, saying: “For your sake I bear insult, and shame covers my face. . . . I pray to you, O LORD. . . . For the LORD hears the poor, and his own who are in bonds he spurns not.” And, lastly, in the second reading, Paul presents God’s answer to men: “For if by the transgression of the one the many died, how much more did the grace of God and the gracious gift of the one man Jesus Christ overflow for the many.”
In the Gospel, however, we hear the most complete explanation of the relationship between fear and trust. There are two things to meditate on: first, the things we are afraid of, and then the reason for not being afraid.
In the Gospel, Jesus tells us three times, “Do not be afraid”: “Fear no one. Nothing is concealed that will not be revealed, nor secret that will not be known.” “And do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul.” “So do not be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows!” We must be afraid of only one thing: “Rather, be afraid of the one who can destroy both soul and body in Gehenna.” Let’s think first about the things that don’t warrant fear, that aren’t meant for us to be afraid of. “Fear no one”: this means not to be afraid of those who persecute us in the broadest sense of the word, those who talk about us behind our backs, or spread rumors about us, attack us for what we believe or what we do, or those who do any and all sorts of bad things to us. We must not be afraid, because, in the end, everything will be revealed: the evil of others, and our virtues.
“And do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul”: Humanly speaking, death is the most terrible thing in this world, because it marks the end of earthly life, and usually we are afraid because we don’t know what awaits us after death. That is, we know by faith, but we haven’t seen those things. But Jesus tells us not to be afraid, because, in the end, the soul is immortal, and if we live well, a life full of grace and trust in God, death is simply the door that we must pass to enter eternal life and happiness. “So do not be afraid!” Jesus tells us.
There is only one thing we should be afraid of: “Rather, be afraid of the one who can destroy both soul and body in Gehenna.” But, who is this person, this ‘one’ who can do so much harm to us, the one that we really need to fear? It’s not the devil, because the devil can’t make me sin if I do not want to sin. This ‘one’ is not another person, not a government official, not my coworkers, not a classmate, an annoying spouse, a stupid sibling, whatever, because some other person can present me with a temptation, but, again, if I don’t want to sin, I don’t sin. This person who has the power to make the body and soul perish in Gehenna, the one who can condemn me to eternal suffering, is me. Only I can make myself perish in hell. This is the danger of my freedom, the danger of not living consistently in the presence of God. Every morning upon waking up St. Philip Neri would said to God: Lord, hold your hand today over Philip, because if not, Philip will betray you. Lord, hold your hands today over Philip, because if not, Philip will betray you. And he was a saint!
But after saying this, Jesus tells us something interesting, something that seems like an abrupt change of topic. “Are not two sparrows sold for a small coin? Yet not one of them falls to the ground without your Father’s knowledge. Even all the hairs of your head are counted.
So do not be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.” What does this have to do with anything? Here we have the deepest reason not to be afraid. We have already said that the only thing to be afraid of is eternal condemnation, and this would be our fault. But God doesn’t want this: He wants our salvation.
Moreover, the value of a single human person is so high that God paid the price with the blood of His Son. The value of our soul is like an auction: those who pay the most, take the thing home with them. God paid for us with the blood of the Son. This is why we must not be afraid: as St. Paul said: [God] who did not spare his own Son but handed him over for us all, how will he not also give us everything else along with him? We must work with God to be saved, but He will give us every grace. We just have to trust.
Saint Peter Chrysologus (at one time bishop of Ravenna) said: Why then, man, are you so worthless in your own eyes and yet so precious to God? Why render yourself such dishonor when you are honored by him? Why do you ask how you were created and do not seek to know why you were made?” Are we afraid? But why?
Through the intercession of Mary Most Holy, let us ask for the grace not to be afraid and to have trust, confidence, in God and in His goodness.