12th Sunday, Ordinary Time Cycle A – 2017
The First Grade religion teacher at our Academy had spent a whole month with her class, telling the children all about GOD’S LOVE and PROTECTION. She told them the story of how, when God had rescued his people from slavery in Egypt, he saved them from Pharaoh’s army by parting the waters of the Red Sea. She told them the story of how, when God’s people had no food or water in the desert; God provided: quail and manna and water from a rock!
The teacher told her class about the many times that God SAVED his people, Israel, when they had been taken captive; and brought them back to the land that he had promise them; and stories about how God took care of his prophets when they were being hunted down by their enemies.
When she had finished her month-long presentation about GOD’S LOVE and PROTECTION, she asked each child in the class, to draw a picture illustrating his or her favorite story. One boy proudly drew a picture titled, “THE FLIGHT INTO EGYPT.” It was a picture of an AIRPLANE with FOUR PEOPLE in it, (and a little black dot in front of the plane).
“Who are the people in you picture?” the teacher asked.
“Mary and Joseph and the Baby Jesus,” he answered.
“And, who is the fourth person?” the teacher asked.
“Oh, that’s PONTIUS, the PILOT,” the boy, explained!
“And what is that little black dot?” asked the teacher.
“Well,” said the little boy, “you told us that the angel appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, take the child and his mother and flea to Egypt!”
GOD’S LOVE and PROTECTION is the REALITY that Jesus is trying to get across to his disciples (and to you and me) in this (evening’s/morning’s) Gospel. And that’s WHY he tells them, (and you and me) – “DO NOT BE AFRAID.”
Of course, there IS much to fear in this life. When I was in grade school, at St. Rose of Lima, (during the height of the “cold war,”) the “fear” was the Atom bomb! And so, every Monday, the air-raid sirens would go off, throughout Chula Vista; BUT we knew that we had “nothing to fear,” because Sister told us that if we crawled under our desks, and faced away from the windows, and crouched over with our eyes shut, with our hands protecting the back of our heads and our ears; then we’d be SAFE! — (Fortunately, there were no documentaries on television, back in the ‘50’s showing how we’d be “vaporized” in a nuclear attack!)
Now days, we’re faced with: crime in the streets; the opioid drug epidemic; and an unimaginable variety of terrorist attacks – to name “just a few” of the things that we need to fear! — Unfortunately, it’s a fact of life that BAD THINGS can happen to very GOOD people in this life. We can lose our health, our wealth, our looks, our loved ones, and our minds. (Many of us are now experiencing this reality, first-hand, with our aging parents.) AND, in the end, WE LOSE OUR LIVES. (Because none of us get out of this world alive!) — Nor does any of this “bad stuff” happen according to an orderly timetable! – If the TRUTH be TOLD – no alarm system (no matter how sophisticated); no safe room; no door lock (no matter how strong); and no amount of weapons (whatever the size of the stockpile) can “guarantee” that we’ll be “protected” from the “dangers” of this life!
It’s FRIGHTENING to think about! — And all too easily, our FEARS about an unknown FUTURE, (those “monsters hiding under our beds”) – can ROB US of the ONLY THING that we REALLY HAVE: “THE PRESENT!” — BECAUSE — IF we spend our lives “hiding in FEAR’S BUNKER from BOMBS that will probably NEVER DROP, we are going to “MISS OUT” on a whole lot of LIFE: the HURTS that could be addressed; the JOYS that could be shared; and the LIFE that could be RELISHED!
But, THE LORD doesn’t want that to happen to us! So, he says over and over and over, again: “DO NOT BE AFRAID!” – Do not let fear STEAL even a single day!
When Jeremiah hesitated to accept God’s call, to be a prophet, because of his youthful age; God said, “DO NOT BE AFRAID!”
When Joseph was in a quandary over what to do with his betrothed wife, Mary, after hearing that she was with child; God said, “DO NOT BE AFRAID!”
When the women found that Jesus’ tomb was empty on Easter morning; God’s messenger told them, “DO NOT BE AFRAID!”
And when Jesus SENDS his disciples OUT on their “first solo mission,” to continue his ministry of teaching, and forgiving, and loving, and healing, he tells them, “DO NOT BE AFRAID!”
EASY TO SAY, of course, until you face the prospect of going broke; or watching your child die, or getting sent to a rest home and knowing that you’re never coming back. —– And so we are tempted to ask, IS THE LORD “BLIND” TO ALL THAT SUFFERING?
And the ANSWER is: “QUITE THE CONTRARY!” — Today, Jesus (“God in the flesh”) is telling us what to do when bad things happen to us: “Don’t let fear paralyze you or make you despair or run for the hills,” Jesus says. “YOU HAVE AN ALTERNATIVE, and THAT IS to TRUST in my FATHER and your FATHER-GOD; and TRUST in ME! – TRUST HOW MUCH WE REALLY CARE ABOUT YOU! —- And, then, (to make his POINT), Jesus uses that “stunningly beautiful” image:
“Are not two sparrows sold for a small coin?” (Actually, sparrows were considered so “worthless” in the time of Jesus, that they were sold for next to nothing! – TWO sparrows were sold for a penny; and FIVE for two pennies – the extra bird was thrown into the bargain as having NO VALUE at all!)
“Yet,” continues Jesus, “not one sparrow falls to the ground without your Father’s knowledge.” (The original Greek text is even MORE POWERFUL. Rather than “falls” the Greek word means “to light upon”; so, every time a sparrows “flies down from the sky and hops on the ground” – (HUNDREDS OF TIMES A DAY) – GOD KNOWS ABOUT IT! — AND, you and I, are MORE PRECIOUS to God, than every sparrow that has ever hatched from an egg!
“EVEN the HAIRS on our heads are COUNTED!” says Jesus – a LOVELY IMAGE that might remind us of a new mother or father – for whom EVERYTHING ABOUT their NEW BABY is precious and wonderful: each finger and toe seem like a separate MIRACLE – each eyelash and strand of soft, downy hair – a cause for AWE! — The POINT being that GOD LOVES US – (you and me) – in an up close and personal WAY!
So, getting back to the ALTERNATIVE to FEAR that JESUS OFFERS US TODAY: If we REALLY TRUST in our FATHER-GOD’s; and JESUS’ CARE for US; – THEN, little by little we should be able to let Jesus “take us by the hand and LEAD US THROUGH”: our PAIN and our SADNESS and our FEAR! – (NOT “around” it), but “through it”!
THAT’S WHAT Jesus is taking about when he says, “DO NOT BE AFRAID.” He’s NOT promising to IMMUNIZE us against life’s sorrows. He’s PROMISING to show us how to take life’s sorrows and WALK THROUGH THEM into whole new “rooms in our souls” that we NEVER even IMAGINED were there!
In other words, Jesus is telling us that EVERY SINGLE MOMENT OF LIFE – (no matter how traumatic and awful) – can be a MOMENT OF VALUE, a KEY to a NEW DOOR — if we allow ourselves to draw upon his POWER!
When all is said and done: our FATHER-GOD LOVES US ABSOLUTELY and COMPLETELY! — (HE’S ABSOLUTELY CRAZY ABOUT YOU and HE’S ABSOLUTELY CRAZY ABOUT ME!) — And, if we truly BELIEVE that, then the LOGICAL CONCLUSION is obvious: — If the God of the Universe loves US (each and every one of us) even MORE THAN we love ourselves, what could possibly go wrong that God can’t fix? —- From the ETERNAL PERSPECTIVE of God — who is WATCHING OVER US and KEEPING TRACK of EVERY HAIR on our head—– even DEATH itself IS NOT TO BE FEARED. Because GOD is BIGGER and STRONGER than even death!
THAT is the message of Easter, and WE ARE AN EASTER PEOPLE; 365 days a year! — And ALLELUIA is our cry!