_*“Everyone who acknowledges me before men, I also will acknowledge before my Father who is in heaven; but whoever denies me before men, I also will deny before my Father who is in heaven.” (Matthew 10:32-33)*_
Fear is a natural defence mechanism of the human body. It is a force that prevents us from moving forward once we sense or predicts the danger. All our fears (including the tiniest) are ultimately the fear of death. No matter how challenging life may be, the truth is that no one wants to die. Hence, people are ready to do anything at the threat of death, which is our major weakness. Is it even possible to overcome fear ultimately? What do we do when our life is threatened due to our Christian values and beliefs? How do we respond to those who hate us and seek our downfall by all means? These are some of the lessons contained in today’s liturgy.
*1. Always Remember That You Are Sent*
The first key to overcoming fear as a Christian is constantly reminding yourself that you do not belong in this world. You cannot be here forever; when your time comes, you must give an account of your life. Today’s Gospel passage is part of Jesus’s instruction to the twelve apostles while sending them out to evangelise. Jesus knew that this would not be an easy assignment for them. He knew he was sending them out as sheep because they would face much resistance, threats and persecution from people who prefer darkness to light.
Like these apostles, all of us Christians have also been called to preach the Gospel to the ends of the earth (Cf. Mark 16:15). Jesus’ words apply directly to us. Knowing that we come from God and are sojourners on earth gives us a significant edge. We are not easily moved because we know our true life can never be threatened. Standing before Pilate, Jesus said: “If my kingship were of this world, my servants would fight, that I might not be handed over to the Jews; but my kingship is not from the world.” (John 18:36).
Since we do not belong to this world, there is no point in preserving our life on earth at the detriment of faith. Jesus would say: “Whoever seeks to gain his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life will preserve it.” (Luke 17:33). Let not the threat of death prevent you from telling the truth or doing what is right. “Nothing is covered that will not be revealed, or hidden that will not be known.” (Matthew 10:26)
*2. Choose Whom To Fear*
Knowing that we are sent entails never losing sight of the one who sent us. As we noted earlier, fear is a natural defence mechanism; it is customary to be afraid. We cannot prevent ourselves from being scared, but we can always choose who we are to fear. Of all the things that frighten us, there is only one valid fear: the fear of God, and the scriptures teach us that this fear is the beginning of wisdom. According to Job, “Behold, the fear of the Lord, that is wisdom; and to depart from evil is understanding.” (Job 28:28). “The fear of the Lord is the beginning (the crown, the root) of wisdom.” (Cf. Psalm 111:10, Proverbs 1:7, 9:10, 15:33, Sirach 1:12,16,18,27, 19:20, 21:11).
Having gone through these passages of Scripture, I must conclude that we fear people when they threaten us for doing what is right because we are not scared of God. We take God for granted when threats move us from ordinary human beings like us. As Jesus puts it: “Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul; rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell. (Matthew 10:28).
If, due to our fear of what people can do to us, we disappoint God and commit sin, a greater danger awaits us. “For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his life? For what can a man give in return for his life? For whoever is ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, will the Son of man also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels?” (Mark 8:36-38).
Once upon a time, a man named Alexandro tried to have carnal knowledge of a twelve-year-old girl named Maria Goretti, but the more he tried, the more she refused. When he threatened to kill her, she looked at him and asked, “Do you not fear God? If you commit this sin, you will go to hell. I would rather die than sin against my God.” St. Maria Goretti was afraid but feared God more than Alexandro. Even at that early age, she had acquired the wisdom of the ages; she continued preaching as she received several blows of the knife from Alexandro.
*3. Know That You Are Important To God*
Another reason we should never be afraid of people is that we serve a God who is never far away from us, sees everything happening to us, and is more than capable of defending us and granting us victory from all evil. The Psalmist says: “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I fear no evil; for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff, they comfort me. Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of my enemies; thou anointest my head with oil, my cup overflows.” (Psalm 23:4-5).
Jesus re-echoed these words in today’s Gospel passage when He said: “Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them will fall to the ground without your Father’s will. But even the hairs on your head are all numbered. Fear not, therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows.” (Matthew 10:29-31). Listen, like Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, who were thrown into the blazing furnace or like Daniel, who was thrown into the Lions’ Den, God for whom nothing is impossible knows how to defend you. They were not afraid of people, and God came to their rescue. Another example of a man who was not scared of people was Mordecai. He wouldn’t bow or worship Haman, a man who considered himself a god. Haman conspired to kill Mordecai and wipe out the whole nation of Israel. Ultimately, Haman was hanged on the gallows he had constructed for Mordecai. (Read Esther 1 to 9).
Dear friends, God surely knows how to defend His own. If it is not His will that you should suffer, then know that these threats to your life test your faithfulness. Remain with God, don’t give in to sin. Jeremiah declares in today’s first reading: “The Lord is with me as a dread warrior; therefore my persecutors will stumble, they will not overcome me. They will be greatly shamed, for they will not succeed. Their eternal dishonour will never be forgotten.” (Jeremiah 20:11)
*4. You must Sing Praises and Pray: The Battle Belongs to God*
When you are terrified, open your mouth and start singing praises. Be like Paul and Silas, who could sing from prison and the glory of God manifested mightily. The chains were broken, and all the prisoners were set free. Even the jailer was converted that night, and he who inflicted blows on Paul and Silas treated their wounds, took them to his own house and fed them.
Faced with threats on every side from many who wanted his downfall, Jeremiah prays a prayer of surrender: “O Lord of hosts, who triest the righteous, who seest the heart and the mind, let me see thy vengeance upon them, for to thee have I committed my cause. Sing to the Lord; praise the Lord! For he has delivered the life of the needy from the hand of evildoers.” (Jeremiah 20:12-13). Surrender to God and relax.
*Conclusion: Fear God; Better be dead than Sin*
In today’s second reading, St. Paul explains the social character of sin. When we sin, we do not suffer the consequences alone. So many are affected. No wonder Jesus warns us, saying: “Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him if a great millstone were hung round his neck and he were thrown into the sea.” (Mark 9:42). Let not your fear of people cause you to sin, compromising to evil will bring about the downfall of others looking up to you. Do not become a scandal.
Let us pray: Almighty ever-living God, please take away the fear of people from my heart. Through our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen
Bible Study: Jeremiah 20:10-13, Ps. 69:8-10,14,17,33-35, Romans 5:12-15, Matthew 10:26-33).*
@Rev. Fr. Evaristus E. Abu