Today, Catholic Christians celebrate the Twelfth Sunday in Ordinary Time.
On this day, we encounter the concept of “fear.”
In the first reading from the prophet Jeremiah, for example, we read a passage that could have been written by a person suffering from extreme paranoid delusions. Specifically, Jeremiah writes:
I hear the whisperings of many: “Terror on every side! Denounce! Let us denounce him!” All those who were my friends are on the watch for any misstep of mine. “Perhaps he will be trapped; then we can prevail, and take our vengeance on him” (Jeremiah 20: 10).
After hearing this portrait of terror, Jeremiah gives us good news when he says,
But the Lord is with me, like a mighty champion: my persecutors will stumble, they will not triumph. In their failure they will be put to utter shame, to lasting unforgettable confusion (Jeremiah 20: 11).
Then, in today’s Gospel reading from St. Matthew, we hear Jesus telling the apostles that they should fear no one, for God is always with them. Jesus points out, in fact, that just as God the Father knows when even one sparrow falls to the ground, so much more does God love humans and watches over them. Jesus adds, “Everyone who acknowledges me before others I will acknowledge before my heavenly Father. But whoever denies me before others, I will deny before my heavenly Father” (Matthew 10: 32-33). In other words, as followers of Jesus, we never have to fear, for in the long run, we will be safe for Jesus will be support us to God the Father.
Before saying more about fear and the folly of fear for Christians, we first hear a story of a young man who lost fear when he found God. The story, by John Powell, is called “Tell the World for Me.”
Once there was a university professor who was teaching a course called “Theology of Faith.” On the first day of class, he encountered a young student with long flaxen hair named Tommy. As time went on, the professor identified Tommy as his “atheist in residence.”
At the end of the course, when he turned in his final exam, Tommy sarcastically asked the professor, “Do you ever think I’ll find God?”
The professor decided to try a little shock therapy. He replied, “No.”
Tommy was indeed shocked by that answer and said, “Oh. I thought that was the product you were pushing.”
The professor looked at Tommy and said, “Tommy, I don’t think you’ll ever find God, but I am certain that he will find you!”
Eventually, Tommy graduated from university, and the professor was happy. Then, one day, the professor learned the sad news that Tommy had terminal cancer. Weeks later, Tommy walked into the professor’s office. The professor told him how he had thought of him many times and had heard that he was now sick.
“Oh, yes,” said Tommy, “I have terminal cancer. It’s a matter of weeks.”
The professor asked, “What is like to be 24 and know you are dying?”
“Oh, it could be worse,” replied Tommy.
“Worse?” replied the professor. “How could it be worse?”
Tommy replied, “Well, what would be worse would be being 50 and having no values or ideals and thinking that booze and women and making money were the only important things in life.”
Tommy went on to report how he had told his father, mother, and brother how much he loved them, and how they all cried with him. Tommy reported that he had given up on ever finding God. Then, one day, he turned around and God was there. Tommy said, “Professor, you were right. God found me even after I had stopped looking for him. Would you tell everyone for me how God found me?”
“Of course I will,” replied the professor. “I will tell them.”
Like Tommy in this story, we often flounder. Though we might not be genuine atheists like Tommy once was, we often become fearful of the world around us. We become fearful of such things as credit card debt, huge student loans, joblessness, infidelity of our spouses, loss of eternal salvation of children who have left the Church, loss of children in divorce, physical health problems, mental health problems, schoolyard bullying, and a host of other things.
But no matter what worries and fears we may have, we are encouraged by today’s Scriptures to remember that God is in charge, and that God is watching over us. And even though we know that bad things can and do happen to us in this life, the ultimate goal is not to live a stress-free life on earth, for that is impossible. The only worthwhile goal we should all have is to become saints, that is, to life forever in heaven with God. All the rest of our fears and worries will one day pass. And replacing all of these sorrows will be living with God in perpetual peace and joy.
And that is truly the good news I have for you on this Twelfth Sunday in Ordinary Time, 2017.
Story source: John Powell. “Tell the World for Me.” In Jack Canfield, Mark Victor
Hansen, Patty Aubery & Nancy Mitchell (Eds.), Chicken Soup for the Christian Soul, Deerfield Beach, FL: Health Communications, Inc., 1997, pp. 185-188.