For all the Good News that the gospel is, today’s reading is challenging in many ways. For what is at the heart of Jesus’ address to his would-be apostles, is a warning – “Don’t be afraid!”
Chapter 10 in Matthew recalls the calling and commissioning of the Twelve Disciples. “Go and share the good news: “Go and heal… lift up… touch the untouchable… crush the works of the Evil One.” Or, as St Paul would write to the people of Rome, a new life under the Law of Christ is close at hand.
But their mission would not be risk free. Jesus warns his envoys that many would not have time for what they would call, “empty talk,” (Acts 17:18) Others would reject them and their message. And, in today’s reading, Jesus doubles down the warning – “Don’t be intimidated… Don’t let those who threaten your life, for there is nothing they can do to your soul.” Go and fulfil your calling, says Jesus.
“If you do not go all the way with me, through thick and thin, you don’t deserve me. If your first concern is to look after yourself, you will never find yourself. But if you forget about yourself and look to me, you will find both yourself and me,” (vv. 38-39, The Message).
As individuals and as a nation we are going through an unprecedented season. An epidemic ravaging cities and farmlands, shores and mountains, affecting over two million people, and with almost one hundred and twenty thousand deaths. Add to that the economic and social consequences – unemployment, sub-employment, “social distancing,” family violence, mental health issues, our own personal concerns and fears, and so forth.
And, to top it all, the grim social upheaval affecting the very fabric of our self-understanding of what America is and what stands for.
As bleak and uninviting our state of affairs is, I can imagine our Savior’s early disciples saying, “Been there, done that,” for the first century was not much different to our days. But they, empowered by God’s very own Spirit went about preaching, healing, uplifting, reconciling, and creating a new community – the Church – that two thousand plus years, still stands.
“Don’t be afraid,” said Jesus to them and, yes, to us, in the here and now. “Keep going preaching, healing, restoring, bringing people together, serving, witnessing – It is not going to be easy. But remember, God takes care of little birds, isn’t Him going to take care of you?”
It is in this, our present troubled time where Jesus is calling us to follow Him on the narrow way that leads to true life. It is in this, our present troubled time where our true allegiance is being put to test. But it is here, in this our troubled time where Jesus love, mercy and grace will shine through – “Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows. But take heart because I have overcome the world,” (John 16:33). That is the theory. How do we make it real on a daily basis?
First, start by being aware of God’s presence with you and in you. Before you tune in the TV or radio to check the forecast, spend just a few seconds or minutes and lift your soul to your Creator and Redeemer. Nothing fancy – Just acknowledge His presence with you and in you.
Second, do not be so smug to think that you can tackle the day and its challenges on your own strength – Pray! Not just a sip of prayer in the morning, as you are dressing up. Do not let the news, the tasks, and your self-sufficiency stop from asking for God’s help all along the day. Be as simple as you can, because as David said, “You know what I am going to say even before I say it,” (Psalm 139:4).
And third, start small – a smile, a thank you, a blessing, an affirmation. Set aside ideas of payback and engage forbearance. If caught in traffic, rather than lifting a finger, raise your hand to praise God. The Bible says that we you return right for wrong, eventually the culprit will feel the heat! (Romans 12:20). If you do this and keep yourself doing the right thing – even as unpopular as might be – know this: Jesus will have your back. And one day He will welcome you to the fullness of the presence of God.
Loving Savior: You taught your disciples to entrust themselves to your loving care; Help me to remember all along my day that you care for me and your steadfast love is never-ending. Amen.