Our Scripture passage for this Sunday comes from the Gospel of Matthew 10:26–33. In the verses immediately preceding this passage, we heard of Jesus sending the Twelve on mission to continue His ministry. In this Sunday’s Gospel passage, we hear our Lord’s instruction to the Twelve to sustain and encourage them in their missionary efforts. As disciples who are sent on mission each day, this instruction has much to offer us as well.
The first thing to note is how many times Jesus counsels the Twelve to not be afraid. In fact, the phrase “do not fear” appears three times in this short section (verses 26, 28, and 31). The first obstacle the Twelve will have to overcome in order to be courageous witnesses of Jesus is that of fear. People were not afraid to follow Jesus, so we must wonder why fear can prevent people from being an effective witness of Jesus. There are lots of fears that we can experience and which can paralyze our witness of faith as well.
For some it is the fear of failure, the fear of rejection, inadequacy, insufficiency, irrelevance and so forth. For others it is the fear of persecution or the fear of social inappropriateness by creating an uncomfortable situation. Sometimes it can be the fear of breaking a rule in the workplace or public sphere. Still others can be afraid of the commitment and sacrifice involved in being a Christian witness especially when the challenge of discipleship requires our own conversion of life. Fear can prevent us from becoming missionary disciples as much today as it did nearly two thousand years ago. These words of Jesus, then, are directed to us and to each of the personal fears that are an obstacle to our missionary outreach and witness. Jesus knows that the human heart is influenced by fear, so He not only tells us to “be not afraid”, He also tells us that if we are going to fear someone it should be the Lord of Heaven and Earth who has power over both body and soul rather than some earthly power who can only affect our life and wellbeing for a short time. All these instructions are meant to help us overcome the obstacles that can prevent our effective Christian witness. What are some of the fears that can hold you back from being a witness of Jesus in your marriage, family, friendships, and professional world?When was the last time you had the opportunity to share your faith but fear prevented you from doing so?When have you overcome fear in order to be a witness of Jesus?How does the counsel to fear only God help you put in perspective the various obstacles you experience?
The second thing Jesus teaches is that the Gospel is meant to be the public property of all people and not the personal possession of only a few. Everything that the disciples have heard “whispered” is to be proclaimed from the rooftops. The disciples have received much personal instruction from Jesus, and these privileged insights are not only for their own enrichment. The Gospel is meant for all creation, and every insight the disciples received is to be shared with everyone they meet. When a message is shouted from the rooftops, it inevitably falls on open ears as well as deaf ears. The Gospel is not diminished by those who reject it, and so disciples should not hesitate to generously and freely share the message of our Lord with everyone. Some will respond and some will not. That is the reality of faith and the mystery of human free response. One thing is for certain, however, and it is this: a person cannot accept the Gospel if the Gospel has not been communicated to them. Our failure to proclaim the message of Jesus is what will definitely prevent others from receiving it. For this reason, Jesus instructs the Twelve to proclaim His message far and wide for all to hear in the hopes that many will respond. Sometimes we like to budget our energy and efforts so that we share ourselves only in situations that have a high probability of success. Sometimes, too, we can mistakenly believe that our personal experience of Jesus and insights of faith will somehow be diminished if we share them with others. That is simply not true. Faith grows only when we do share it with others. Jesus wants the Twelve to become stronger in their own faith, and for that reason He sends them out to share it with others. They may not have all the answers or understand all the mysteries, but that’s okay. They do have an experiential knowledge of Jesus, and the Lord wants them to give to others what they have received. How does it challenge you in your discipleship to know that your personal experience of God is actually public property that others have a right to receive?When do you find yourself budgeting your faith witness to others based on the probability of successful reception?When has another person surprised you because they responded to an experience of faith that you did not think would affect them?What percentage of your faith efforts do you think are successful?What do you think are the criteria Jesus uses in determining whether or not we are successful witnesses?
The third thing Jesus teaches the Twelve concerns their need to trust in God’s providential care. To communicate this instruction, our Lord uses examples of two relatively insignificant things in order to demonstrate that if God cares about such things of such small value, He will care even more about disciples who are of greater value. The first example concerns a sparrow, which was eaten by the poor and was among the cheapest meat a person could purchase in the market. An assarion
was worth 1/16 of a denarius, the wage of a day laborer. If God cares about something as insignificant as a sparrow, then how much more does God care for a missionary disciple of Jesus Christ? God created every follicle for an individual strand of hair, which emphasizes the enormous care and concern the Lord has for every human person. If God is attentive even to the many follicles on our head, then how much more must God care for the well-being of His faithful disciples? In each case, the argument is from smaller to greater and is intended to give the Twelve confidence of God’s presence with them even when they experience difficult and painful situations. This is a challenging teaching for us because it calls us to trust the Lord with our lives and to firmly believe that God will take care of us no matter what we experience so long as we do His will and continue His mission. It is this confidence that allowed the Martyrs to embrace their deaths with peace and even joy. It is this confidence that motivated the first missionaries to carry the message of the Gospel to the far corners of the world having no idea what awaited them when they arrived. It is this confidence that can inspire us each day to face each situation as an opportunity to be a friend of Jesus who introduces others to Him. Indeed, God gives us a hundred circumstances every day to be His witnesses. Sometimes we are blind to such opportunities because we fail to realize that God is the Lord of History and that every moment is a manifestation of God’s grace and an opportunity to be a faithful disciple. When has a relatively insignificant event opened your eyes to help you realize that God is truly the Lord of History and to help you trust more?In what do you typically place your trust?Who has most inspired you by their trust in God?Why do you think Jesus needed to encourage the Twelve to trust in God before they could begin their missionary journey?
The last part of our Lord’s instruction reminds the Twelve that their temporal efforts will have eternal consequences for good or for ill. The language of “acknowledge” or “confess” had certain legal overtones to it and indicated that the Twelve were on trial even as they were carrying out their missionary responsibilities in the world, and this trial would continue in Heaven at the Final Judgment. If the Twelve were faithful in acknowledging Jesus before others, Jesus would be faithful in acknowledging them before His Father (Mt 10:33). However, if the Twelve were unfaithful in their missionary efforts, then they would be denied before the Heavenly Father (2 Tm 2:12–13). This fidelity is not so much to a message as it is to the person of Jesus Himself. This is a significant development in our Lord’s instruction to the Twelve and indicates that they are being commissioned not only to communicate a message of faith but to actually confess their deep, abiding friendship with Jesus Himself. It is actually easier to communicate a message we have heard than to share the relationship with which we have been blessed. Suppose that someone asked you why you acted with integrity in your professional life. Would your answer be based on principles of business or on your relationship with Jesus? As disciples, we are called to introduce others to the person of Jesus and not just to His message. In fact, many people may not be open to the message until they have been introduced to the Person! When we readily acknowledge Jesus as the source of our life, faith, and confidence, we prove ourselves to be His faithful friends who are not ashamed to bring Him into our marriages, families, friendships, and professional life. What a powerful message! To be a friend of Jesus means to introduce all the other people in our lives to the Lord. We can’t do that if we are afraid or if we think our relationship with Jesus is private. We can only do that when we are concerned with fulfilling God’s will more than anything else in this world, when we know that God cares for us, and when we know that our eternal salvation depends upon it. How successfully did you pass your trial of faith this past week?How does it change the way you approach your day to understand it as a trial of discipleship?What situations give you an opportunity to bear witness to Jesus in your life?When are you tempted to communicate a Christian message rather than your relationship with Christ?
The Catechism of the Catholic Church in N. 1828 says, “The practice of the moral life animated by charity gives to the Christian the spiritual freedom of the children of God. He no longer stands before God as a slave, in servile fear, or as a mercenary looking for wages, but as a son responding to the love of him who “first loved us (1Jn 4:19).”
This reminds us of the two basic types of fear identified by our Tradition: Servile Fear,
which is a selfish fear of punishment without the consideration of love; and Filial Fear,
which is fear of offending the one who is feared, based on reverence and love.