Reflection – Do not be afraid



Jeremiah 20: 10-13

Psalm 68

Romans 5:12-15

Matthew 10:26-33


Recently I was asked to join a parish committee set up to work on a plan to re-open our church. At the beginning of the meeting each of us was asked to share, with the rest of the group, how we had coped with the lockdown. My initial response to this was to quote Our Lord who said, ‘Do not be afraid,’ no matter what happens, ‘Do not be afraid.’

This week in our liturgical cycle we return for the first time since Lent – how long ago does that seem now? – to the Gospel of Matthew. Imagine my surprise then when I opened my missal and looked up the readings for this Sunday and found those exact same words of Our Lord, ‘Do not be afraid.’ I must admit it did make me stop and think. So what can we learn from this and how can it help us today?

Let us first go back to the days of the early church. The one thing that figured most in the faith of those early Christians was, in fact, the death of Jesus. About one third of Mark’s Gospel for example focuses exclusively on the Passion. As a result everyone knew that it was dangerous to be a follower of Jesus and that they too ran the risk of following his fate. Jesus made this possibility clear when he said that those who would come after him would be rejected, insulted and condemned. So putting it quite simply the follower of Jesus must, in fact, expect to share in his fate. Faced with this possibility both then and now what should the follower of Jesus do?

The Gospel reading for today tells us, ‘Do not be afraid.’ No matter what happens, including the current Coronavirus pandemic, ‘Do not be afraid.’ In this sense, therefore, fear is not good and should never prevent us being Disciples of Christ. The disciple, then, must never be silent but rather continue to live and proclaim the Gospel no matter what happens.

The first thing that Jesus invites us to do is to trust God. By staying close to Christ the early Christians understood that something new had begun and it was Good News. Moreover although it may well appear to be hidden now, one day it will be plainly known by all. What is this Good News? That God, in fact, loves all people.

In his letter to the Romans Paul highlights the radical nature of this new life. For him the resurrection of Christ changes everything for all time. As a result there can be no going back to what was before because in Christ there is a new creation. For this reason Paul goes back to Adam, the first man, where God’s work first began. Jesus now becomes the new Adam but he does not go back, only forward and radically transforms everything. Thus, it is through the resurrection, that ALL people – THE WHOLE OF HUMANITY – can share in the new life of God. What is more, this is offered to ALL people as a free gift by virtue of God’s abundant and overflowing grace. This of course can only be seen as GOOD NEWS!

For Paul, however, to live and proclaim this message took courage and this brings us to the first reading from the prophet Jeremiah. Our faith will be challenged both by others and by life itself, witness the current times in which we live. Paul was completely transformed by his experience of Christ and for him the Risen Lord changed everything, hence his tendency to dismiss all things that became obstacles to faith.

This now brings us back to the Gospel. The followers of Jesus are invited to take an active role in proclaiming the Good News that God loves ALL people.  ‘What I tell you in the dark, speak in the daylight; what is whispered in your ear, proclaim from the roofs.’  If this is to happen, however, our own hearts have to be touched and transformed by God’s grace first, only then will we have the courage and the faith to proclaim it by and through our own lives. Of course, we doubt ourselves, we falter and even sometimes feel as if life itself will overwhelm us.

It is then that Jesus comes to us and says, once again, ‘Do not be afraid.’ You see when we believe that the resurrection of Christ changed everything our faith tells us that he is always with us and that he will never abandon us. As a result there is, therefore, literally, nothing to fear. Not even the last judgement need hold any fear for those who believe, simply because Our Father in Heaven loves us without any limits and we have Jesus as our advocate who, in truth, never leaves our side.

All of this is meant to inspire confidence within us. Saint Paul saw and understood this and spent his whole life baring witness to it. Jesus invites us now to live our lives in him knowing and believing that he is always with us. His message is a simple one, ‘Go and tell others about me and that GOD LOVES ALL PEOPLE.’ When we doubt, when we falter, when we are fearful and when we stumble and fall it is then that we need to hear again those words of eternal encouragement, ‘Do not be afraid.’

Final Thought

It is said that those words, ‘Do not be afraid,’ or their equivalent occur no les than 365 times in the Bible. That is one for every day of the year. Now that cannot be a coincidence!

God bless

Deacon Sean