Are you a “what if” worrier? I have found myself playing the “what if” mind games with increasing frequency, particularly in the last few months. What if one of us in the family gets the coronavirus? What if we can’t manage the quarantine well enough and we get each other sick? What if both my husband and I lose our jobs? What if our recent college grad can’t find work in this economy? What if she has to live with us – forever?! I sometimes find myself afraid of things that might never come to pass. It’s a use of precious energy better spent elsewhere.
In the section that precedes today’s Gospel reading, Jesus has just commissioned the Twelve, telling them to go to the lost sheep of the house of Israel and proclaim that the kingdom of heaven is at hand. He tells them to take nothing for the journey and to simply rely on the hospitality of others. And he warns them: “I am sending you like sheep in the midst of wolves.” In the next breath, at the start of today’s reading, he follows up that warning with the comment, “Fear no one.” I don’t know about you, but the “what if’s” surrounding this whole plan Jesus has cooked up fly fast and furious into my brain! I’m sure if I had been with Him and raised my concerns, Jesus would have rolled his eyes and sighed, thinking, “You still don’t get it, do you?”
As Paul reminds us, Jesus has taken death off the table, removed it once and for all as an obstacle to union with God, in the here and now and for eternity. Paul writes, “…how much more did the grace of God and the gracious gift of the one man Jesus Christ overflow for the many.” That “many” includes us. Jesus assigns his disciples a mission of astounding magnitude, and in today’s Gospel, He lets them know from the outset that this job is not going to be safe or comfortable. They will be hated and persecuted, just like the prophet Jeremiah of our first reading. Still, Jesus admonishes, “Fear no one.”
What Christ makes abundantly clear is that it’s not bodily harm or even death the disciples, and in turn, we, should worry about, it’s what kills the soul, and He blatantly states, “Whoever denies me before others, I will deny before my heavenly Father.” Christian fear isn’t fear of what others will think of us, of what might happen to us, of deprivation or discomfort. Christians should fear what leads us astray from the mission the Lord sets before us.
Everyone is familiar with the famous line uttered by FDR: “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” Fear can make us betray the truth. It can keep us from confronting parts of ourselves that we prefer to keep concealed. Fear can paralyze us from intervening to protect those who are hurting or suffering injustice. Fear often holds us back from doing what is right and true and good when it all feels too big and overwhelming to face. Fear leads us away from God’s desire for us, which is our deepest desire for ourselves.
Jesus’ teachings about how to treat one another were pretty radical back in His day, so it is no surprise that He calls us to that same radical love. Can we step up and lean in where we are needed? Here’s the big “what if” — what if we aren’t ready? That’s when we need to remember that He has sent His Spirit to be with us, to guide us and walk with us, no matter what we face. Throughout Scriptures, mortals hear from angels in visions, “Be not afraid.” In Psalm 27 we read, ‘The Lord is my light and my salvation, of whom should I be afraid?” and in the letter to the Romans, “If God is for us, who can be against us?”
Right down to the number of hairs on our heads, we are known fully, cherished intimately, and valued limitlessly. This knowledge, along with our belief that the Holy Spirit will be with us, should give us the courage to take up our mission, as radical as it was for those twelve disciples 2000 years ago, to fearlessly acknowledge Christ before others through our words and actions. The choice is ours to make. So I ask you, what have you got to fear?