Sunday of Week 12 of Ordinary Time (Year A)

Commentary on Jeremiah 20:10-13; Romans 5:12-15; Matthew 10:26-33

“THERE IS NO NEED TO BE AFRAID,” Jesus tells the Twelve in today’s Gospel. In times of uncertainty about the future it is not surprising that many show signs of fear and anxiety. The words of Jesus may sound good but do they give any real reassurance in times of trouble?

Much of the fear and anxiety of people today is about their material security, even when times are good. Times are good now but will they last? The Gospel is not terribly concerned with that. In the ideal Christian community material security will not be a major problem because believers will take care of each other and share their resources with those in need. The fact that such sharing communities are not very common makes one wonder how much real Christianity in practice exists!

Reactions of hatred
The readings today are concerned with a rather different problem, namely, happens when the living of the Gospel is taken seriously. We are being reminded today that to become a follower of Christ in the full sense (as opposed to just a churchgoing Catholic), that to spread his message of love, justice and peace in word and practice will be seen by some people as a real threat to be resisted.

It is quite an illusion, which we sometimes live under, to think that the perfect Christian is someone who is loved and admired by all. On the contrary, such a person is likely to be bitterly hated “for my name’s sake”.

To be a fully committed Christian involves loving others with the same love that Christ showed for us but it is no guarantee whatever that we will be loved in return. We are not Christians in order to be loved and looked up to but to proclaim by word and example the vision of a fully human life that Jesus taught us.

Sign of contradiction
This will mean quite often calling in question the less than human standards that often prevail in our societies. The Christian is a “sign of contradiction” as our vision of life calls into question many of the prevailing values of society. To do that, even in the most loving and non-violent and non-manipulative way, can be seen as a negative judgement by some and invite retaliations of hate, bitterness, violence – and sometimes death.

Examples of this abound in the history of the Church. A prominent example was when Archbishop Oscar Romero was gunned down in the middle of celebrating Mass by the military rulers of El Salvador, to be followed some years later by the brutal and sadistic murder of six priests dragged from their beds in the middle of the night. All that these men did was to draw attention to the many injustices being perpetrated against the poor and powerless in their society. Altogether some 75,000 people fell victims to military oppression in El Salvador alone.

The point is that all of these men could easily have avoided their fate if they had been “good” churchgoing Catholics, avoided touching on political and social issues and kept their mouths shut. (Which, incidentally, is what many people expected Archbishop Romero to be like. He was chosen by his peers as a known conservative who would not “rock the boat”.)

But we do not have to go to Central America for examples. They can be found, for instance, in the history of the Church in China, Japan and Korea where thousands have given (and, in some places, continue to give) lives for the sake of and shed their blood in the name of the Gospel. It has been said that there have been more Christian martyrs in the 20th century than in any other since the time of Jesus.

Standing up to be counted
Today’s Gospel reminds us that we do have a responsibility to stand up and be counted. And, thank God, many are still doing so. “If anyone declares himself for me in the presence of others, I will declare myself for him in the presence of my Father in heaven. But the one who disowns me in the presence of others, I will disown in the presence of my Father in heaven.” At the same time, we are assured of God’s protection and help.

The greatest danger is not the loss of our lives, although some people will be prepared to make any compromise to survive physically. As Jesus says, “Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul; fear him rather who can destroy both body and soul in hell.” The greatest fear is not that we may be killed but that we may be seduced into betraying those values on which our integrity as human persons depends.

To save our “bodies” at the expense of Truth, at the expense of Love, at the expense of Justice, at the expense of Freedom, at the expense of Human Solidarity – this is the real danger. That is the real death.

Some in the Christian community are called to greater prominence in proclaiming God’s message. We call these people “prophets”. They are not so called because they are fortune tellers who know the future but it is true that the genuine prophet can read more clearly “the signs of the times” and anticipate trends in society. Winston Churchill was such a prophet when, in the 1930s, he stood relatively alone on the British political scene denouncing any form of appeasement with Hitler. We know now how right he was.

The role of the prophet is well described in today’s Second Reading. Jeremiah was not, at first, a very willing prophet. He did not think he had the qualifications but God assured him that he was the man God wanted.
He soon found that the role of a prophet in bringing God’s message to his people did not win him many friends. “Denounce him! Let us denounce him!” he heard people say. “All those who used to be my friends watched for my downfall,” he complains. People watched out for him to put a foot wrong so that he could be denounced.

This is a common reaction to prophets, as in the case of Gandhi and Martin Luther King. It makes it easier for people not to have to listen to their message. In spite of all, however, Jeremiah knew that God and Truth were upholding him. “The Lord is at my side, a mighty hero; my opponents will stumble, mastered, confounded by their failure.”

Institutional and charismatic
We see two kinds of prophets in our Church today. One group could be called “institutional” and they include bishops, priests, theologians and other religious leaders, both women and men. Their main role is to help all of us to be faithful to the true spirit of Jesus’ gospel in the way we live our daily lives both individually and corporately.

The second group we can call “charismatic” prophets and these are prophets in the more real sense of the word. We have already mentioned Martin Luther King and Archbishop Romero in our own time. Both these men gave their lives for what they believed. But one would also say that Mother Teresa of Calcutta was a prophet, not so much for what she said but for what she did and, in particular, by drawing our attention to caring for the “poorest of the poor” and finding Christ in them. Perhaps each one of us can add our own names to the list of Christian (and non-Christian) prophets in the world today and in our own communities. Who are the real prophets in our country, in our society, in our community today?

All called to be prophets
Prophecy is seen in the New Testament as a very special gift of the Spirit and, in its full sense, is a special vocation. However, some form of prophecy is incumbent on all of us. Each baptised person is called on to give witness to Christ in his/her life situation. Each one of us is called on to give witness to the values of the Gospel both by word and example and that may mean, at times, being a “sign of contradiction” in our families, in our schools, in our working places, in the wider society.

If we find that we are not known to be Christian, or that being a Christian seems to be no different from anyone else, if we find that our Christian communities, our parishes, leave no mark on their surrounding society, then we need to ask ourselves seriously what kind of Christian lives we are leading and what kind of witness to the Gospel we are giving.

It is not enough simply to be assembling together once a week. Our lives – individually and together – need to witness visibly to justice, equal dignity of all, honesty, a spirit of service, sharing resources, defending the weak and marginalised…

To be a living witness to Christ may generate some hostility among people we know. As for instance, when we insist on being honest than “on the make”, serving rather than manipulating people for our own ends, friendly and fair to all and not just to “one’s own”, standing up for immigrants and strangers in our community. It is better to be right with Christ than wrong with the crowd. It needs confidence in Christ, in oneself and a conviction that the only way that benefits all is the Way of Jesus.

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