Do you know the command which is most often repeated in the Bible?
Perhaps you think it’s an instruction to love God and neighbour, or to pray more earnestly, or maybe to give more wholeheartedly to a charitable cause.
Well, you’d be wrong. The most often repeated command is :
“Don’t be afraid.”
And we find those words in three different verses of today’s gospel reading.
The first disciples of Jesus had plenty to be afraid of. Jesus had just told them that they’d be persecuted, betrayed and put to death . So why shouldn’t they be afraid?
It’s true he eventually told them that God would look after them , but did you notice that the first reason he gave them for not being afraid was that everything which is presently secret will be made known?.
Perhaps you might think that actually, this is a good reason to be afraid. After all, how would you feel if all your secret thoughts and peccadillos became common knowledge? You might be a bit scared for the consequences of that!
But the point which Jesus is making is that the time will come when the perseverance and patience needed to follow him will come to light. Truth will be known, and all those who have lived with this integrity despite the mocking and the persecutions, will be vindicated.
This is the teaching of Jesus, which is a lot deeper than a quick “God will look after you” sound bite.
When we get discouraged we need to remember this, because it’s easy to lose sight of God’s purpose and to forget the message of the Gospel. God’s truth is powerful; he holds the future and he controls our destiny. We are in his hands, and even if persecution ends in death it can’t kill the soul. So we don’t need to fear those who mock us and oppose God’s work, because their power is actually very limited.
These words of Jesus remind us that nothing can take us outside of the love of God. We matter more than sparrows and God is concerned for far more than our hairstyle! His love is sure and all we need to do is to proclaim his truth and trust his love.
Jesus was accused of the most amazing things. His opponents were able to look at the face of love and say that his activities were linked to Beelzebub, the ruler of the world of evil. So, if we are following Jesus, trying to live our lives in accordance with his leadership, then we shouldn’t be alarmed or surprised if we’re treated in the same way as he was. Indeed, the time to worry is perhaps when everything in the garden is, so to speak “rosy” and no one finds any fault at all with what as a follower of Jesus we proclaim either by what we say or by what we do. If we follow Jesus then our relationship with other people will be just like his, and our relationship with God will be like his as well, because he’s promised to speak to God for us and to call us his friends.
On the other hand , if we choose to deny our discipleship then , of course we shall avoid the risks of persecution , but we shall also miss out on the bond which Jesus has with God. And we can’t call ourselves Christian if we choose that path. We just can’t have one of these relationships without the other.
Many Christians in our world, face severe persecution, very similar to those which Jesus is recounting in today’s Gospel reading. Thank God that we shall probably never have to face this kind of extreme situation. Nevertheless it can take courage to let our own relationship with Jesus be known to others. We shall be laughed at for telling the truth, when a “white lie” would help us avoid trouble. We shall be called a killjoy when we decline to take part in a group activity which is perhaps morally dubious, or when we won’t accept a popular opinion which runs counter to the teaching of Jesus. Indeed if we take a stance on a law which we know is contrary to the teaching of Christ, we know that even within our own so called “enlightened” society there will be the possibility of a heavy price to pay.
There is certainly a time and a place for discretion, but there are also many times when we need to acknowledge clearly that we belong to Christ; that God’s Kingdom needs to be told and his love trusted.
If Jesus is real to us then we have no need to fear the consequences of making him known to others through both our silence and our speech.
May God bless us all to that end.