The most commonly repeated phrase in the whole Bible, in both the Old Testament and the New Testament, is “Have no fear!” or “Do not be afraid!” In the short gospel of just seven verses that we heard just now, Jesus tells his disciples not to be afraid. These words are found twenty-one times in the gospels and just in Matthew’s gospel, he will have eight times Jesus uttering these words. Each of the time, it is said within a different context: (1) The very first time we hear these words are in the Infancy Narrative – Joseph is told in a dream not to be afraid to take Mary as his wife; (2) the next three times would be what we just heard; (3) when the disciples saw Jesus walking on water and thought it was a ghost, he calmed them by saying do not be afraid; (4) at the Transfiguration, Jesus used the same words; (5) and after the resurrection, Jesus would twice use these words again;
Generally, the words ‘do not be afraid’ used by Jesus would be to calm the disciples in the face of adversity. It is quite similar to what you and I would say to calm a person. Today we live in a world that seems like no matter where we go and what we do, we somehow find ourselves constantly surrounded and confronted with FEAR – of the unknown, the dark, exams, failure, heights, people in authority, and the list can go on.
However, the context in which Jesus uses in today’s gospel is quite different from the rest. It has nothing to do with calming a person who is overcome by fear or anxiety. Here, Jesus uses these words in relation to ‘truth’… ‘Do not be afraid – for everything that is now covered will be uncovered; do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul.’
Are we afraid of the truth? Here I am not speaking of truth as a science but more in relation with the self because in some ways they define our relationship with God. This is what Jesus was referring to as he presented himself as the TRUTH. In this context then, I would like to reflect of three points about confronting the fear of ourselves. The first is the fear of confronting our weaknesses. Many of us are unable to deal with one’s own weakness but are quick to point out the weaknesses and failings of others. Perhaps we have learnt how to cope not wanting to confront our weaknesses by pointing out the weaknesses of others. If fact, this is one of the reasons why people are afraid to go to the Sacrament of Confession – it is very often camouflaged with the reason that I am too shy to tell a priest my sins. Deep down it is not wanting to articulate my weakness because if I do, then I am challenged to confront it. So do not be afraid of the Sacrament of Confession for it only brings healing.
The second is the fear of people seeing us as who we really are. When we let others see who we really are, we fear rejection and therefore we put on masks and pretend to be the best person in the world so that people will like us. Rejection is indeed a painful thing but if we choose to love only people who are perfect in our eyes, then how do we be faithful to the command of Jesus “Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them that despitefully use you; that ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven” Mt 5:44ff). I am reminded of a sermon preached by Martin Luther King Jr. about loving your enemies. He says that we are not able to love someone whom we consider as imperfect simply because the very thing you dislike in the other person is most likely the thing that you struggle with within yourself. Perhaps we can learn to be non-judgmental at the imperfections of others and truly love as Jesus commands us.
The third and final fear is the fear of speaking the truth. How many times in a day do we catch ourselves of not telling the truth or even distorting the truth to manage a situation. The is a saying in the Far East, “To hide a lie, a thousand lies are needed.” It is similar to the poem by Francis Duggan that goes…One lie leads to another lie that always is the case | Your first lie for deception and your second to save face | And when you are faced with the truth the truth you will deny | And to lie to you comes easy so you tell another lie. Let us speak the truth and as Jesus said to his disciples, ‘the truth will set you free’ (Jn 8:32).
The key point from the gospel is ‘do not be afraid’ to be who God intended you to be – that is to be on the side of truth in all circumstances. We first need to befriend the truth about one’s self and this is indeed part of the journey of discipleship. If we fail or fall along the way to sin, do not be afraid or even doubt if God still loves you, in the words of Jesus, you are surely ‘worth more than hundreds of sparrows’.
– 12th Sunday in Ordinary Time