Graphic by David Chen

Faith: We are challenged to break free from fear

  • June 15, 2017

12th Sunday in Ordinary Time, June 25 (Year A) Jeremiah 20:10-13; Psalm 69; Romans 5:12-15; Matthew 10:26-33

Jeremiah felt absolutely overwhelmed and besieged. His entire prophetic ministry was marked by persecution, ridicule, rejection and attempts on his life. It seemed to him that a host of enemies was arrayed against him, all intent on his destruction.

Those committed to doing good and challenging the status quo are guaranteed lots of opposition. One thing gave him strength and courage — his conviction that he was doing God’s will and that the Lord was truly with him.

He knew that God was reliable and faithful, and that God was always on the side of the poor and oppressed. Jeremiah felt that God was “doing battle” for him as a warrior.

The image of God as a warrior is one that is not so comforting or helpful today — there are far too many “warriors” in the world. Advocate, champion and protector are other terms that come to mind and they all have a positive message.

God has our back, especially when we are doing our best to live justly and with compassionate care for others. When we face opposition, the first thing to do is make sure that we are doing the right thing for the right reasons and that we are doing our best to walk in God’s ways.

We cannot claim a prophet or martyr’s status for our own opinions, stubbornness or foolishness. If we are on the right path, then we should not be afraid of anything or anyone. We are never alone or helpless, and we are not victims unless we choose to be. For such guidance, protection and strength there is only one proper response: gratitude, especially in the form of praise.

Sin and negative behaviour can spread like a contagion through society and eventually the world. People are affected by the attitudes and examples of others, and this sort of behaviour forms the culture that in turn forms us.

Paul describes the tidal wave of sin that started from just one person and was passed from generation to generation by culture and example. Sin reigned over peoples’ lives and since the law had not yet been given many were even unaware of their plight.

But God is more powerful than any human sin and the free gift of grace flows abundantly through Jesus Christ. Just as sin can spread from the actions of a few, so love and grace can spread from the sacrifice and love of just one.

Fear can be a very powerful straightjacket, preventing us from living authentically and from voicing the truth according to our own lights. Even fear of ridicule can snuff out our courage and integrity.

Those in positions of power are aware of the power of fear and use it to their advantage. The mere knowledge that a person or institution can inflict harm keeps many people “in line.”

People overthrow repressive regimes when they are so desperate they have nothing to lose. But there is another way. Knowing God’s infinite care and love, as well as being convinced of one’s worth in the eyes of God, can be a life-transforming experience.

God notices when two sparrows are sold and sacrificed. We are worth far more than the sparrows to God. This is not a guarantee that we will not suffer or experience loss — after all, God did not prevent the demise of the sparrows.

But God noticed and God cared. The slightest bit of pain or suffering in any of God’s creatures matters to God.

In biblical terms, to be remembered by God is to be saved. We are challenged to break our own shackles — fear — and to freely and joyfully proclaim God’s mercy and love to a hurting world. As part of this, we speak out for justice for the poor, oppressed and vulnerable, and refuse to be cowed.

Jesus gives us good advice: fear no one. Everything that is hidden — and there is much in our world that is hidden — will be uncovered and laid bare. The Spirit of God is about joyful freedom, especially freedom from crippling fear.

We are of infinite worth in God’s eyes. Let us live as if we believe that.