JUNE 24-25, 2017

JEREMIAH 20:1-13; ROMANS 5:12-15; MATTHEW 10:26-33

Today’s reflection focuses on seven verses from the tenth chapter of Matthew’s G o s p e l . What’s so interesting about this short passage is that Jesus tells his Apostles not to be afraid three times. To shed some light on this triple entreaty let’s put these verses into the greater context of the chapter.

Chapter nine concludes with these words, “The harvest is abundant but the laborers are few; so ask the master of the harvest to send out laborers for his harvest.” (Matthew 9:37-8) Jesus sees the Kingdom before him, ripe for the harvest. It’s time to gather workers to assist him.

Chapter ten then immediately recounts the commissioning of the Apostles. We’re told that Jesus “gave them authority over unclean spirits and every disease.” Jesus was passing his own power to these men. They were to “cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse lepers, drive out demons.” (Matthew 10:8) Matthew then listed the names of the men in this special group. Jesus called them the Twelve because he wanted them to be the foundation of the New Israel.

Jesus chose a surprising group of men. There was Simon, not Simon Peter, who was probably a member of a political faction called the Zealots that strongly opposed the Roman occupation, and was often involved in violent uprisings. In the opinion of the Jewish people Matthew was a traitor because he extorted taxes from them to give to Rome. There were four simple fishermen, Simon Peter and his brother Andrew, and James and his brother John. There were Bartholomew, Philip, another TWELFTH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME JUNE 24-25, 2017 JEREMIAH 20:1-13; ROMANS 5:12-15; MATTHEW 10:26-33 GATHER HYMNAL # 1013 The Pastor’s Reflections James, Thaddaeus, Thomas who doubted the resurrection, and, of course, Judas who betrayed him. An interesting group of men to say the least!

Jesus then gave them guidelines for their work. He told them not to be concerned about preaching to the pagans, but to first bring his message to “the lost sheep of the house of Israel.”(Matthew 10:6) They were to place their trust completely in God, and take no money with them, no extra clothing, and no sack to take up collections. He told them, “Without cost you have received; without cost you are to give.” (Matthew 10:8b)

He continued with a series of warnings. He told them that they would be taken to court, arrested and scourged; they would even be betrayed by their relatives. When they experienced persecution, they were to flee, and continue preaching in other towns. But this persecution would benefit the dissemination of the Gospel, and the rooting of the Kingdom. “Amen, I say to you, you will not finish the towns of Israel before the Son of Man comes.” (Matthew 10:23b)

Beginning with verse 26, Jesus began cautioning them to not give in to fear. “Nothing is concealed that will not be revealed, nor secret that will not be known. What I say to you in darkness, speak in the light; what you hear whispered, proclaim on the rooftops.” (Matthew 10:26-27) They were to be the messengers of the Truth. Even in the darkest days, Jesus would be with them strengthening them to fearlessly carry his light. They would hear his voice whispering to them. They were to proclaim his message of truth from the rooftops.

Let’s bring this Gospel passage into our world of 2017. Christian persecution continues throughout the world, but is especially vicious in the Middle East. 65% of Iraqi Christians have fled. Egypt has experienced a greater exodus, 75%. 50% of Syria’s Christians have abandoned their homeland, and a shocking 80% of Palestinian Christians have emigrated from Israel.

None of us can foretell the future. All we can acknowledge right now is that there are millions of Middle Eastern Christians in search of safety. Many are wandering. Many are trapped in refugee camps. Many have managed to find asylum in European countries. If the horrible and traumatic persecutions of the first three centuries of our Christian history can teach us anything, it’s that persecutions can enable the Gospel to be spread throughout the world. The persecutions didn’t destroy the faith; they strengthened it.

Christianity has been in a gradual downward spiral in Europe, North America and Australia. 2 The Pastor’s Reflections However, it’s blossoming in Asia and Africa. Those continents are already sending missionaries to the United States and Europe. Perhaps the migrations of Middle Eastern Christians will serve as a new foundation for a renewed Christianity in countries that have lost their connection to the Gospel. The faith of men and women who have survived persecution is deep and powerful. Perhaps when Pope John Paul II called for a re-evangelization of the Church he was prophetically pointing to this infusion of a deeply committed faith in countries that have lost the faith. The great exodus of Christians from the Middle East may just be the first step of his vision.

If there’s any lesson we can glean from this Gospel passage it’s “do not be afraid.” To reinvigorate our own faith we can’t be afraid of what friends, relatives or co-workers think of what we believe. If we remain strong we’ll grow closer to Christ, strengthen each other’s faith, and perhaps even plant the seed of faith in those who don’t believe, or are mediocre believers.

I’m going to end today’s reflection with some verses that are written on the wall of Mother Teresa’s home for children in Calcutta. These are the wise words of someone who isn’t afraid.

People are often unreasonable, irrational, and self-centered. Forgive them anyway.

If you are kind, people may accuse you of selfish, ulterior motives. Be kind anyway.

 If you are successful, you will win some unfaithful friends and some genius enemies. Succeed anyway.

If you are honest and sincere people may deceive you. Be honest and sincere anyway.

What you spend years creating, others could destroy. Create anyway.

If you find serenity and happiness, some may be jealous. Be happy anyway.

 The good you do today will often be forgotten. Do good anyway.

Give the best you have, and it will never be enough. Give your best anyway In the final analysis, it is between you and God. It was never between you and them anyway.