A Lectio Divina Approach to the Sunday Liturgy
BREAKING THE BREAD OF THE WORD (# 30)
12th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A – June 19, 2005
“Do Not Be Afraid”
Jer 20:10-12 // Rom 5:12-15 // Mt 10:26-33
I. BIBLICO-LITURGICAL REFLECTIONS
The central message of this Sunday’s Gospel reading (Mt 10:26-33) is: do not be afraid to speak out for Jesus and proclaim his kingdom of justice and right. This courageous stance on behalf of the Lord and his reign of justice and peace is marvelously illustrated in the lives of Fr. Gregory Schaffer and Fr. Rother (cf. Kayla Ann Smith, “Standing for Guatemalans” in MARYKNOLL, May-June 2005, p. 19-21). Kayla, a Minnesota teen inspired by those who champion oppressed Central Americans, writes:
Father Schaffer’s true courage to stand up for the poor of Guatemala was put to the test when, in the 1980’s, there were armed campaigns pointed at the natives of Guatemala. Even though the priest from the New Ulm Diocese knew he could be killed at any time for helping the indigents of Guatemala, he remained with the people he had come to love. He was in an especially dangerous position, since he was aiding the innocent of Guatemala as well as being a Catholic priest. Through his many acts of charity, he spoke plainly and boldly that the poor cannot be ignored, and that we are called to help the less fortunate. Soon Father Schaffer found that he had been put on a death list. Although the fact of possible death would have scared many people to leave the terrorized country, Father Schaffer remained in Guatemala. He barely saved his life by convincing a military commander that he was not an ally of the guerrilla terrorists. Father Rother, who was a priest in the neighboring town, Santiago de Atitlan, was not as fortunate as Father Schaffer. Father Rother was murdered by the death squads. The farmer’s son turned priest from Okarche, Oklahoma, paid the ultimate price for being a soldier of Christ. The loss of Father Schaffer’s fellow priest friend saddened him almost to the point of anger until he realized that Father Rother’s passing would be a powerful event that united all the people.
This Sunday’s Gospel reading is part of Jesus’ discourse on the mission as narrated by Matthew. This profoundly inspiring message is addressed to the Twelve on how they are to conduct themselves as they proclaim the message of the Kingdom from land to land. Jesus’ intense and challenging missionary exhortation has animated and powered the endeavors of Church missionaries in every age.
The biblical scholar, Eugene Maly comments: “Our particular passage deals with persecution and how missionaries are to respond to it. They must have no fear, and they must have complete confidence in the Master. While the directives contained here are intended primarily for missionaries, Jesus would surely expect every one of his followers to be formed by them in some way.” Indeed, the message on the mission reaches far and wide for it is ultimately directed to all who place themselves at the service of Christ and the Gospel.
What are the lessons that could be gleaned from this challenging and, at the same time, encouraging missionary discourse of Jesus? Eugene Maly answers: “First, that the kingdom message is explosive. It will make people rise up and try to stop those who preach it. It is a message that, once understood, people either accept wholeheartedly or reject violently. The Lord tells us to speak out our Kingdom conviction in public. Jesus was able to reach only a tiny part of the Near Eastern world. His followers must be his voice down through the ages and throughout the world. Despite the risk, our confidence and assurance lie, not in the acceptance of what we stand for by others (this may happen, but our experience may also be that of Jeremiah in the first reading), but solely in the Lord’s concern for us. He takes care of his own. That, too, is a feature of the Kingdom message. It is what makes the whole missionary task possible.”
The missionary discourse of Jesus encourages the Christian followers to fearless confession in the face of opposition, contradiction and persecution. This Sunday’s Gospel passage is composed of three sayings and each saying is introduced by a “Do not fear” exhortation (cf. verses 26, 28, 31) meant to overcome the fears that may cause the disciples to abandon their mission.
The first saying is Mt 10: 26-27: “Fear no one. Nothing is concealed that will not be revealed, nor secret that will not be known. What I say to you in the darkness, speak in the light; what you hear whispered, proclaim on the housetops.” The “Do not fear” exhortation is based on the inevitability of the coming of God’s kingdom and Jesus’ witness to it. The Kingdom of God had arrived in Jesus’ person and in his message, and the disciples look forward to its final inward breaking at the time of the Lord’s second coming. Between the first and the second manifestation of the Kingdom an immense apostolic work and proclamation ought to be done. The kingdom of God message, proclaimed once by Jesus, must be repeated to every generation as a fearless witness to truth. Harold Buetow remarks: “Many people do not like the truth and like even less the consequences that may result from telling it. But truth will triumph (v. 26) and will be revealed either in our lifetime or later. We must listen to and learn the message of Christ, and speak up boldly and fearlessly despite the consequences (v. 27).” Indeed, through the missionary and evangelizing work of Christian disciples, the truth that is Jesus will be widely proclaimed to all peoples and nations.
The second saying is Mt 10:28-30: “And do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the souls; rather, be afraid of the one who can destroy both soul and body in Gehenna. Are not two sparrows sold for a small coin? Yet not one of them falls to the ground without your Father’s knowledge. Even all the hairs of your head are counted.” This saying appeals to God’s care for Jesus’ disciples. God’s providential care extends to the sparrow, which is one of the cheapest articles sold in the market, and to the human person whose very being is known to him through and through. Using a rabbinic tool that compares a light matter to a serious one, Jesus sought to dispel fear and evoke trust in God’s care for his disciples. The all-knowing and compassionate God who cares for the sparrows has even greater care for the faithful disciple who sacrifices his life for the spread of the Gospel. Jesus argues that the enemies may destroy the body, but not the soul. The worst aggressions against the body do not always succeed in reaching person’s inner core where true dignity and greatness reside. God who knows when a small bird dies and perceives the destiny of each creature is mindful of the trials and anguish endured by the disciples on behalf of God’s kingdom.
The third saying is Mt 10:31-33: “So do not be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows. 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.” Jesus’ saying points to the final judgment before God, which will be based on the disciples’ faithfulness to Jesus during the conflicts that are part of their mission. The authors of the Days of the Lord, vol. 4, assert: “To thus profess one’s faith in words and actions, courage, sometimes even heroism, is needed. But Christ is present, whose Spirit is given so that we may speak and act without fear. A mysterious and intimate solidarity exists between Jesus and the disciples. Those who make the Lord’s cause their own will see him testify on their behalf on Judgment Day. At that most dreadful moment, they will hear again, one last time, Do not be afraid.”
The authors of the Days of the Lord, vol. 4, conclude: “The unconquerable strength of all – the prophet, the apostle, the Christian, the Church – is a gift from Almighty God, who never abandons his own, all appearances sometimes to the contrary. This strength is proportionate to the trust that believers place in the one whose cause they have espoused … Therefore, it is with full assurance that they welcome and exercise their mission as witnesses to Christ and heralds of the good news. Joyful and proud to share with others the joy and trust that animate them, they guard against any form of arrogance or presumption, because they know that their strength is not their own.”
II. POINTS FOR THE EXAMINATION OF THE HEART
A. In our Christian mission, are we brave and fearless in proclaiming the truth that is Jesus? Trusting in the irresistible power of the Kingdom of God, do we respond positively to Jesus’ exhortation: “Fear no one. Nothing is concealed that will not be revealed, nor secret that will not be known. What I say to you in the darkness, speak in the light; what you hear whispered, proclaim on the housetops.” (Mt 10:26-27)?
B. Do we trust in the divine solicitude that is called “providence”? Do we respond positively to Jesus’ exhortation: “And do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the souls; rather, be afraid of the one who can destroy both soul and body in Gehenna. Are not two sparrows sold for a small coin? Yet not one of them falls to the ground without your Father’s knowledge. Even all the hairs of your head are counted.” (Mt 10:28-30)?
C. Are we ready to be faithful to Jesus in the midst of conflicts and trials that are part and parcel of the Christian mission? Do we respond positively to Jesus’ exhortation: “So do not be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows. 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.” (Mt 10:31-33)?
III. PRAYING WITH THE WORD
Leader: Loving Father,
by his public ministry and his paschal mystery,
your Son Jesus Christ proclaimed courageously
the absolute importance of the Kingdom value.
In our missionary task and Kingdom ministry,
help us to respond positively to his exhortation: “Do not be afraid.”
May we always trust in your divine solicitude for us,
knowing that we are worth more than many sparrows.
Fill us with courage and strength
that we may fully welcome our mission as witnesses to Christ
and fearlessly exercise our ministry as heralds of the Good News
in today’s anguished and fragmented world.
We ask this through Christ our Lord.
IV. INTERIORIZATION OF THE WORD
The following is the bread of the living Word that will nourish us throughout the week. Please memorize it.
“So do not be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.” (Mt 10:31)
V. TOWARDS LIFE TRANSFORMATION
A. ACTION PLAN: Pray for Christian missionaries who promote the Kingdom value with courage and conviction. Pray for those who are fearful when faced with the contradictions, persecutions, and violent reactions that their ministry is bound to elicit. Pray for those who have been persecuted, tortured and killed.
B. ACTION PLAN: That we may appreciate more deeply the challenge of the Christian mission, and in view of a more meaningful Year of the Eucharist, make an effort to spend an hour in Eucharistic Adoration. Visit the PDDM WEB site (www.pddm.us) for the EUCHARISTIC ADORATION THROUGH THE LITURGICAL YEAR (# 30): A Weekly Pastoral Tool for the Year of the Eucharist.
Prepared by Sr. Mary Margaret Tapang PDDM
PIAE DISCIPULAE DIVINI MAGISTRI
SISTER DISCIPLES OF THE DIVINE MASTER
60 Sunset Ave., Staten Island, NY 10314
Tel. (718) 494-8597 // (718) 761-2323