Updated: Jun 25
Jesus speaks this warning in the gospel of today, “Fear no one… And do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul… So do not be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows…”
Why does Jesus always caution his disciples against fear? In simple terms, Jesus identifies fear as an impediment to the healthy relationship he came to establish with his followers. Jesus helps the disciples to understand that their dignity as children of God can be messed up by fear, so also their capacity to spread the good news can be diminished.
Fear is defined as an unpleasant emotion caused by the belief that someone or something is dangerous, likely to cause pain, or a threat. The effects of fear can range from excessive worry to intrusive thoughts about the perceived threat. The consequence is the inability to focus on normal human functioning. In most cases, fear leads to the perception of a negative self-image. You are not good enough. You cannot perform satisfactorily. Jesus warns, humans are not only physical bodies, and should not be afraid of the threats against physical existence.
Jeremiah’s situation in the first reading provides what seems like a placebo. The man of God is surrounded not only by enemies but by friends who turned into enemies. Their priority is to destroy him, to get rid of the prophet just because they dislike his message. Jeremiah faces fury, whisperings, terror, and vendetta from the people. Jeremiah’s approach can be helpful here. First, he speaks up to counter those fears. Second, he instills positivity in himself, using self-encouragement to counter the feelings of fear. Finally, Jeremiah identifies God’s support and the omniscient power.
A scripture passage which explains the preeminence of divine power is Gideon’s battle against Midian in the book of Judges. The battle plan begins with thousands, but the number of soldiers is drastically reduced to what ordinarily would not be considered sufficient enough to go into battle. God speaks to Gideon, “Now therefore come, proclaim in the hearing of the people, saying, ‘Whoever is afraid and worried, is to return and leave Mount Gilead’” (Judges 7:3). Mark the words, “afraid and worried,” as exclusion criteria for the fight. Those who become subjects of fear rarely make it to the end. In that instance, twenty-two thousand men are disbanded from camp, while ten thousand remain.
However, Gideon is determined to do what the Lord wants Again, the Lord speaks to Gideon, “The people are still too many; bring them down to the water and I will test them for you there. So it shall be that he of whom I say to you, ‘This one shall go with you,’ he shall go with you; but everyone of whom I say to you, ‘This one shall not go with you,’ he shall not go” (Judges 7:4). God trims the number of Gideon’s soldiers further and in the end, only three hundred men make it, “And the Lord said to Gideon, “I will save you with the three hundred men who lapped, and will hand the Midianites over to you; so have all the other people go, each man to his home” (Jdg. 7:7-8). The remaining soldiers are sent home. We might wonder what impact it makes to have brave soldiers like Gideon in battle today or to behold courageous prophets like Jeremiah who constantly remind us of the powers of God in moments of fear.
How many soldiers stay home for fear in the real sense of the Christian faith today? Let’s recall the covid era briefly. Fears and anxieties filled the atmosphere. Social distancing, psychological, and physical disconnection became the norm. Everyone feared everyone. To date, some Christians have not come back to practice their faith following the covid experience.
Humans can be afraid of/for several things -losing their lives, losing finances, falling sick, becoming unemployed, etc. Humans fear those in power, the rich. Humans have the tendency to be afraid of anything that brings discomfort in our lives. Jesus says today in the gospel, “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 in Gehenna.” And he reinforces the elevated human dignity, “Are not two sparrows sold for a small coin?” Sparrows are birds, yet they worth so much before God, since “not one of them falls to the ground without your Father’s knowledge.” How about human beings created in God’s image? Jesus answers the question; God cares exceeding about us, to the point that every hair on our head has been counted. God knows and cares tremendously for you, “So do not be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.”
Today’s fear is mostly from the new world of Artificial Intelligence. There is a Peacock show that is currently streaming. The show is a metaphor that represents a powerful internet algorithm and it is titled Mrs. Davis. This algorithm manipulates humans in ways that seem beyond them. Sr. Simone is the heroine of this movie, who set out to destroy Mrs. Davis. For Sr. Simone to do that, she has to live off the grid, dare the odds and go after Mrs. Davis. Sr. Simone is on a mission to turn Mrs. Davis off, the only way to stop this algorithm. Don’t forget that Mrs. Davis is invisible, sees everything, speaks through different people, just like the “big brother” concept in America. Either you do what Mrs. Davis wants or be destroyed. Sr. Simone is undaunted. She’s not afraid.
Many of us today feel like we are manipulated by the invisible forces of Artificial Intelligence culture. We cannot get off the grid, fears and anxiety generated by technology. That little machine in our hands called cellphone has completely taken control of many. It speaks, commands, predicts our sleeping, and our waking. It dictates the pace of our daily functioning. It produces reasons to do the things we do and not do what it commands. It creates in us voices and manufactures sounds that make us believe whatever it says. The question can be asked, how many of us today do what technology commands over and beyond what our faith asks? We need the courage of Sr. Simone. We need the prophetic voices of Jeremiah. We need the confidence of Gideon. We need to hear the voice Christ speaking hope in us.
Christ says to you, do not be afraid. Christians must speak up against fear. Say it aloud like Jeremiah, “the LORD is with me, like a mighty champion: my persecutors will stumble, they will not triumph.” Fear makes us captives and susceptible, but remember, “if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed” (Jn. 8:36).
Readings: 1st- Jer. 20:10-13; 2nd- Rom. 5:12-15; Gospel- Mt. 10:26-33