Year A: Twelfth Sunday Ordinary Time
Do not be afraid of those who kill the body.
Matthew 10: 26-33
Jesus said to the Twelve: “Fear no one. Nothing is concealed that will not be revealed, nor secret that will not be known. What I say to you in the darkness, speak in the light; what you hear whispered, proclaim on the housetops. And do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul; rather, be afraid of the one who can destroy both soul and body in Gehenna. 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. Everyone who acknowledges me before others I will acknowledge before my heavenly Father. But whoever denies me before others, I will deny before my heavenly Father.”
- In general, what role does fear play in your life and in your faith experience?
- When have you experienced a non-consoling spiritual truth or a revelation of God’s presence and felt compelled to share it with others? Examples: speaking truth to power, not following the status quo when it is anti-gospel, defending those without power or access to justice.
- The burden of following Jesus. When have you had to persevere in a time of suffering or persecution? How did you respond, did you experience God with you?
- Do you find it easier to worship Jesus than to follow him? In what ways do the challenges of true discipleship take a back seat to worship in your faith life?
After our 50 days of Easter and two solemnities, today’s Gospel thrusts us into the middle of Jesus’ discourse about mission. The opening line is the most important: “Fear no one.” If this were the Gospel of John, the next step would probably be a discourse on the truth that makes us free. But, Matthew is concerned about more concrete matters.
One dimension of Jesus’ instructions in this passage is the reversal of the “messianic secret” (Matthew 16:20). Instead of warning his disciples to “tell no one,”
Jesus now says there is no such thing as restricted access to the good news. When Jesus told people not to tell anyone what they thought of him or asked them not to publicize the news about a sign he had worked, it was generally because they didn’t fully understand it. They would be likely to proclaim him as their style of messiah or a wonder-worker, not as the messenger of God that he had been sent to be.
When the apostles are sent to proclaim the nearness and coming of the Kingdom of Heaven, they have been commissioned to do the works that Jesus has done. The very fact that Jesus could and did freely share his power demonstrates what kind of a savior he was. He sought the reign of heaven, not the spotlight.
Jesus commissioned the apostles and told them how to travel light and become a part of the communities they were to visit. Then, he immediately warned them about the job: he was sending them out as lambs among the wolves; they would be labeled as minions of the devil. What an introduction to his injunction, “Fear no one.”
Clearly, the disciples’ lack of fear can’t be based on external evidence or on naiveté. Jesus sends them out fully aware of what they are facing. But, even more than that, he makes them fully aware of the content of their message. They are being sent to proclaim what they have heard and to do what they have seen. They are to share what has sparked their hopes and deepened their faith. By giving them his mission, Jesus pushes them into the necessary next step of discipleship. It’s one thing to stand by and admire what Jesus says and does, it’s quite another to say and do the same. But, the reality is that only by taking up the mission can they be disciples. Jesus is not a one-man show. Anybody who wants to watch from the sidelines will never be more than a spectator. Being part of the dynamic of the coming of the reign of heaven requires active participation.
There is a mystery to this dynamic. Jesus preached God’s unconditional love and invited everyone to receive it. The trick is that we can only receive that love by risking everything else, as he said, by losing our life to save it. Apostles will know the love of God and the coming of the kingdom only to the extent that they give themselves to it. In knowing the love of God they will be impelled to share it. When they are dismissed and persecuted, they will understand that as an experience of solidarity with God and of God with them. Like fledgling sparrows learning to fly, they will set off behind their master trusting that the Father of Jesus will care for them as he had for Jesus himself. They will not be afraid.
Choosing to Speak the Truth Despite Suffering
By John Shea
When we see something with clarity, there is a strong urge to speak. When the “something we see” is the real truth about ourselves and potentially the real truth about others, not to speak is to lose this truth. If we do not embody illumination, it recedes into darkness. If we have discovered a new self, it needs to breathe and grow in a genuinely earthly way. We may rejoice at what we have found but, as the poet Anne Sexton has said, “The joy that isn’t shared dies young.” It may have begun in darkness, but it yearns for light. It may have begun as a whisper, but it builds into a shout. Secrecy and silence mean the death of what is struggling to be born. The Gospel of Thomas says, “If you bring forth what is within you, what you have will save you. If you do not have that within you, what you do not have within you [will] kill you” (GT 70).
At the same time, we realize that if we speak, many people will be disturbed. Some will abandon us; some will criticize us; some will move to silence us. We will become the object of gossip and ridicule. We will lose status, family and friends, property, wealth, profession, and perhaps even our lives. At this prospect we shake with fear. Surely it would be better to deny this truth about ourselves. Why put ourselves and everyone else through this ordeal?
Yet if we do not speak, can we live with the cowardice? Can we live with the sham the rest of our life will become? We will become one of T. S. Eliot’s people, “living and partly living.” The choice is between the life we have always led and the new life that will have to embrace suffering.
When Jesus told his disciples to move out into the open with what they knew, he was not urging them to share information. It was not a matter of facts, social critiques, or theological formulations. It was a matter of their new identity as followers of Jesus, as sons and daughters of the Father in heaven, as children of God, as images of God, as burning hearts. This identity might have been conceived in the whispering darkness of their inner lives, but that was only an incubation period. The revelation of the truth was not given to them for themselves. What they found for themselves was the potential identity of all who would hear them. They were meant to invite others into this truth. To let fear silence them, meant they had to return to their old selves and allow others to “cling to their false gods.” On one level, this may have been denying Jesus. But, on another level, they were denying themselves and generations to come. They were depriving the earth.
Ken Wilber has talked about this inner passion to speak the spiritual truth that has been revealed to us.
And therefore, all of those for whom authentic transformation has deeply unseated their souls must, I believe, wrestle with the profound moral obligation to shout from the heart, perhaps quietly and gently with tears of reluctance; perhaps with fierce fire and angry wisdom; perhaps with slow and careful analysis; perhaps by unshakeable public example, but authenticity always and absolutely carries a demand and duty: you must speak out, to the best of your ability, and shake the spiritual tree, and shine your headlights into the eyes of the complacent . . . Those who are allowed to see are simultaneously saddled with the obligation to communicate that vision in no uncertain terms: that is the bargain . . . And this is a terrible burden, a horrible burden, because in any case there is no room for timidity. (One Taste: Daily Reflections on Integral Spirituality [Boston: Shambhala, 1999] 35)
The disciples of Jesus are blessed and burdened with a revelation. It has “unseated their soul,” and the housetop, from which their voice can be heard, is their only authentic standing place.
What I like about Wilber’s words is that he makes room for many ways in which the shout from the heart can be manifested. It flows through each of us differently: quiet tears, angry wisdom, careful analysis, unwavering example. The shout from the heart is neither monolithic nor overbearing. There are many ways to move from darkness to light, from whispering to housetops. However, he does not make room for timidity. As far as I am concerned, there is always room for timidity, as long as timidity itself is not the room.
Before we speak the truth we know, fear is the room we live in and freedom is curled up, its arms tightly wrapped around itself. Once we speak, freedom is the room we live in, and fear is confined to a chair. It does not go away and attempts to completely expel it are usually futile. We must love and respect our fears because they are our life companions. I think this is part of what the Buddhists mean when they say, “Serve your dragons tea.” If eventually freedom grows so large that it can house fear without capitulating to it, laughter may spontaneously flow from this previously unimagined integration. For the poet is correct:
Erect on Freedom’s highest peak Laughter leaps. (Nikos Kazantzakis, The Odyssey: A Modern Sequel [New York: Simon and Schuster, 1958]
The laughter recognizes something we thought impossible. We love God more than we fear suffering. We finally “get” Jesus’ prayer in the garden. He wants the cup to pass; he has no love affair with suffering. Our natural path, as Thomas More in A Man for All Seasons (London: William Heinemann, 1960) reminds us, lies in escaping. But more than the desire to escape is the desire to do the will of the Father. The Father’s will is to offer love and reconciliation, to reveal God’s intentions for the wayward creation. If this means suffering, then let the suffering itself be the revelation of God. Jesus cannot be silent. He must honor the “bargain of illumination.” The word of the sky that told him he was the Son must be told to every son and daughter. The more he prays and realizes this unshakeable priority, the more his fear falls from him, like drops of blood watering the earth.
Spiritual Commentaries and Teachings are excerpted from The Spiritual Wisdom of the Gospels for Christian Preachers and Teachers by John Shea © 2004 by Order of Saint Benedict. Published by Liturgical Press, Collegeville, Minnesota. Used with permission