Fear and Mission
Updated: Jun 22, 2020
Matthew 10:26-33 - Only when we orient ourselves toward God to receive His strength can we emerge with humble confidence from the quiet darkness of solitude to “speak in the light”.
As we wrap up the celebrations of so many great feasts of the liturgical year and enter into Ordinary Time, today’s gospel from Matthew offers us a look into the life of a disciple. It is important, I think, to view this passage we hear today in its full context. Jesus has just called the Twelve and is now sending them out on mission. We find Him now exhorting them on what it means to live as a disciple of the Christ. Jesus offers words of courage and steadfastness to those who would be His disciples, and He orients our gaze beyond this world toward the throne of the Lamb at the right hand of God the Father.
Light and Wolves
“Therefore do not be afraid of them” (Mt 10:26).
Who is this “them” that Jesus refers to? Earlier in this chapter, Jesus talks about “wolves” (Mt 10:16), among whom the Twelve will be sent. The world is full of wolves. Jesus assures us that we will encounter them and be persecuted by them in our lives as disciples, for “no disciple is above his teacher” (Mt 10:24). And so, we are to “speak in the light” (Mt 10:27). The call of Jesus is not for the faint of heart. For to speak among wolves is to call attention to yourself, and so invite their wrathful hunger upon ourselves. We can find ourselves stuck then between two options. The first is to turn inward on ourselves, and to speak only in the dark with soft whispering voices among those who we already know to be with us. But what good is that against the howling we hear overtake the night of the world? The second is to “proclaim on the housetops” (Mt 10:27) what we have been told in secret, “in the darkness”, by Jesus. Recall the words of Our Lord: “Pray to your Father in secret” (Mt 6:6). Only when we orient ourselves toward God to receive His strength can we emerge with humble confidence from the quiet darkness of solitude to “speak in the light”.
Fear and the World
“Therefore do not be afraid of them.” Jesus says that we do not need to be afraid. Now, any sane person who saw a pack of ravenous wolves ready to devour them would be understandably concerned, if not outright terrified. Yet, Jesus is clear with His words, “do not be afraid” (Mt 10:31). Many of us find it difficult, and often times seemingly impossible, to not be afraid when confronted by those who hate us and what we stand for because of our faith. It can be paralyzing. We fear what the other might say to us in response, how it could irreparably change our relationship with them, what others will think of us when they hear about it, how we will be treated going forward, etc. We all know these thoughts and feelings. They are scary. Friends, Jesus is well aware of this and does not ask you, His disciple, to endure anything that He Himself, the teacher and master, did not endure. And so He offers us a different way of entering into these situations.
“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” (Mt 10:28).
Our fear is often rooted in a sort of misperception of what Jesus is speaking of here. We allow other people to dictate our interior lives and our sense of self worth. We attribute to them the power to kill our souls as well as our bodies. This fear makes us concede to the world, and to grow weary of following Christ. We destroy our own souls by allowing them this power that is not theirs. In reality, they only have the power to attack the exterior. The examples of countless martyrs speak to the truth that these wolves can truly do nothing to those whose eyes have become fixed on the Father with His Son in heaven. We can just as well look to our teacher and master, Jesus Christ. He entered into the light and acknowledged the Truth to the world, and the world hated Him. They ravaged His body with blows from the hand and the mouth, yet His spirit remained steadfast in faith because He accepted in His heart the love with which the Father loved Him. It is with that same love that the Father, through His Son, loves and holds each one of us.
Life and Mission
Brothers and sisters, we have been called to share in the mission of Christ. We must persevere. But we can only do so, we can only live the mission, if we know what the goal is for us. Our goal is communion with God, the Blessed Trinity. “Whoever denies me before others, I will deny before my heavenly Father” (Mt 10:33). If we do not speak and live boldly for Our Lord, if we do not conform our lives to Him, we will not see this paradise of communion. Now, this is not reason for panic. It is urgent, but it comes from a place of passionate love, not anxious fear. This is the work of a lifetime. It is the daily practice of converting our hearts and minds to Christ’s and entering into that eternal gaze of the Father and the Son. As Jesus says later in this chapter, “whoever loses his life for my sake will find it” (Mt 10:39). He is the fullness of human life, He is the Son of God, and so, by losing our lives in Him we enter into His life. We become who we are made to be. His light illuminates us as we truly are through our baptism, beloved sons and daughters of God. With this truth, and our hearts secure in it, we can step into the light and speak without fear. “You are worth more than many sparrows” (Mt 10:31), so do not be afraid.
Reflection for Prayer:
Read Mt 10:5-39 once. Let the words sink in. After a minute or two, read it again. Imagine yourself in the scene with Jesus, watching Him closely and listening to His words...
Where are you with Him? In a room? On the seashore? Sitting down in the grass? Who is with you? How are they reacting?
How do you feel when you hear these words? Which ones stick out?
How do you want to react to Jesus? Is there fear? Joy? Confusion? Respond honestly to Him.
How does He respond to you?
Do not be afraid of silence or distraction as you await His response. Gently return your mind to the scene and try to focus on His face, attentive to what you experience without judging yourself. Be open to the gift He wants to give.
Try to spend 10-15 minutes with this scene in dialogue with Jesus.