This Sunday, we hear Jesus preparing his disciples to go out into the world to spread the Good News about the Kingdom of God. It seems to be a kind of pep talk, to get them pumped up before they go out. Why do the disciples need such encouragement?
Three times Jesus tells the disciples not to be afraid:
So have no fear of them...
Do not fear those...
So do not be afraid...
Let's face it, those disciples are afraid.
They are afraid because Jesus asks them to be prophets—to speak what they have heard God say. And the disciples know what the world thinks about prophets. In the first reading this Sunday, we hear the prophet Jeremiah moan,
I have become a laughingstock all day long;
everyone mocks me.
The disciples fear what might happen out there, apart from Jesus. Would it not be better just to stay close to Jesus always?
We encounter this situation in our lives, too, do we not? Many of us live with families of people who all think the same way, who all hold the Word of God valuable. Some of us live in a community of people who all worship God together, who all listen to the Word of God, receive the Eucharist, and try to build the Kingdom. But some of us do not have this experience. Some of us try to build the Kingdom among people who do not know God as we do. Some of us are the only ones on our sports team, in our dance class, at our school who go to church on Sunday. Some of us live in a community of people who seem to think of God only rarely, who speak the name of God, not in prayer, but only in vain. The more we mix with the world, the more we realize how strange we are. The more we mix with the world, the more we get stared at. The more we mix with the world, the more we might think it is best not to mix with the world at all.
Like the disciples.
And yet, Jesus says,
What I say to you in the dark, tell in the light; and what you hear whispered, proclaim from the housetops.
Proclaiming from the housetops, people will notice us. People will laughed at us, just like at Jeremiah. Does Jesus not know what could happen? Would it not be better to treasure those whisperings in our hearts? To dwell on the Word of God privately, in safety?
Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul;
Easy for him to say! We do not want to get hurt!
rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell.
Those whisperings of God—what Jesus speaks to us in the dark—they are for us, but they are not ours. They are told to us, but they are for the world. The world needs to hear.
The world needs to hear that Life is stronger than Death.
The world needs to hear that God forgives, that God longs desperately to welcome each person back.
The world needs to hear that God knows each one of us so well that,
even the hairs of your head are all counted.
How close must God be to us, to count each hair on our heads?
If God is that close, do we need to fear?
What we need is the gift of Fortitude. Once we know what we are called to do, we need the strength to do it. When we fear, we pray to the Holy Spirit who is already with us, for the courage to do the will of God.
Jesus knows it can be difficult. Of all people, Jesus knows.
But Jesus makes a promise to us
(and this is the best part)
Everyone therefore who acknowledges me before others, I also will acknowledge before my Father in heaven
When we leave the tournament or concert to go to Mass...
When we speak up for the person in the class whom others make fun of...
When we choose to do the will of God, even when it is extremely hard...
...we show that we recognize that God is first, because God is the source of all goodness and Life.
We acknowledge Jesus before others.
And then Jesus acknowledges us.
We already know that he knows us. We already know that he calls us by name.
But do we recognize that he also tells others that he knows us? He tells God.
I know this one, he says. This one is mine.