Gospel Text: Matthew 10:26-33
Michel de Verteuil
With today’s passage we are still with the “continuous reading” of St Matthew’s gospel, although it is not strictly continuous since last week’s reading ended with verse 6 of chapter 10, and this week’s starts with verse 26 of the same chapter. Jesus is still in Galilee however, continuing to lay the foundation for his great work of transforming the ancestral religion of the Jews and eventually all religion.
The passage is a series of sayings, an opportunity to remember that according to the lectio divina method the sayings of Jesus, like all other bible passages, must not be read in a vacuum, hanging in midair as it were, but as historical events, “fulfilled” in subsequent history. It is significant that the lectionary reading starts, not with the sayings themselves, but with “Jesus said to his apostles…” To be true to the text itself then, we must situate this event both in Jesus’ context and in ours, asking ourselves where he is uttering these sayings today? to whom? why?
The sayings are in metaphorical language and therefore open to different interpretations. We are not free to interpret them as we like however; our interpretation must be guided by the original historical context.
The context here is that Jesus has just warned his disciples that they will be persecuted as he was (verses 24 and 25). We interpret the sayings, therefore, as words of encouragement addressed to those who are being unfairly condemned. In verse 26, for example, “do not be afraid” means “do not be afraid of those who are condemning you unfairly.”
Each saying has its movement which we must enter into.
Verse 26 is in two stages. In the first, the disciples are misunderstood because some truth about themselves is “covered up” and “hidden” e.g., the fact that they are being honest, are protecting someone’s good name, are not sure what they should say.
The second stage is the moment of vindication – the truth is “uncovered” and “made clear.”
– the Jesus people (including ourselves) who encourage others with words like this at times of discouragement,
– moments when we feel at peace because we trusted that the truth would be uncovered in God’s good time.
In verse 27 the perspective changes. The passivity of the previous verse is gone; Jesus’ disciples are now active, speaking out openly and self-confidently. “What I say to you in the dark” and “what you hear in whispers” can be interpreted in two ways.
They can mean:
– what many are saying in secret (“in whispers”) because they are reluctant to speak out,
will eventually come to the light;
– we come to deep truth (the kind worth preaching from housetops)
only if we take time to hear what is said in “whispers.”
Verse 28 can also be interpreted in two ways depending on the meaning of “he who can destroy both body and soul in hell.”
– It can refer to God, in which case Jesus is saying our only concern is for God’s judgement; we don’t have to be afraid of human judgements.
– It can refer to people, in which case Jesus is warning us against those who can break our spirits, wear us down, erode our self-confidence or our determination.
When did we make the journey to this insight? Who is the Jesus who is saying this to the world?
Verses 29 to 31 become very touching if we enter into their movement.
– A first stage when people are feeling that no one (not even God) cares about what happens to them.
-A second stage when Jesus arrives on the scene and speaks these words.
Verses 32 and 33 are often misinterpreted. The secret of interpreting a bible passage correctly lies in following a correct method – a good method leads to a good interpretation. This passage is therefore an opportunity to look at method.
I suggest four aspects to look at.
– The first criterion for knowing that we have read a passage right is Jesus’ saying, “by their fruits you shall know them.” If at the end of our reading we feel fearful or lacking in self-confidence, our interpretation has been wrong. So too if Jesus comes across as harsh and unforgiving”
– The language is poetry – imaginative, not rational, teaching. We must be guided by our feelings and get the “feel” of the passage.
– As always with lectio divina, we start with experience. Jesus must remind us of a great person who touched our lives deeply, someone straight-forward but compassionate, who does not let us give in to self-pity but at the same time does not crush us – someone who lifts us so that we act from the best in us.
– The context here is still Jesus speaking a word of encouragement to those who are being unfairly treated. The passage then must mean something like: “Don’t worry what people are saying about you. As long as you are being true to your convictions you are being affirmed in the presence of God in heaven. On the other hand, don’t hide behind the fact that you are being persecuted. Be honest with yourself, don’t fool around with the truth.” Who has spoken to you (or to your community) like that? Who is speaking like that in the world today?
“As the setting sun brings out the stars, so great principles are found to shine out which are hailed by men and women of various religions when infidelity prevails.” … Cardinal Newman
Lord, we often feel discouraged in our attempts to be good
and to make our country a more human place.
There is so much envy in the world and in ourselves,
so much lust, greed, desire for power,
whereas trust and selflessness are so rare and vulnerable.
Help us not to be afraid.
Teach us to trust people, ourselves and history,
to remember that true goodness is covered over by evil
and you will uncover it;
that love is hidden deep under all the selfishness
and you will bring it to light.
“The captains, merchant bankers, eminent men of many letters Distinguished civil servants, chairmen of many committees Industrial lords and petty contractors, all go into the dark.” …T.S. Eliot
Forgive us, Lord, for the times when we become self-righteous,
forgetting that we are covering up many sins which will one day be uncovered
and hiding impure motives which will one day be brought to light.
“The surface of Scripture and the form of nature both serve to clothe Christ, they are two veils that mask the radiance of his faith while at the same time reflecting his beauty.” … John Scotus Eriugena
Lord, people are dazzled by great achievements, large crowds and impressive buildings.
We pray that your Church will be for our society what Jesus was for his:
free enough to appreciate the true greatness that is covered over in society,
the real virtue that is hidden because it meets with no success.
“To understand Scripture, we must stop acting like mere spectators.” …Karl Barth
Lord, we pray for preachers of the Gospel.
Don’t let them become superficial in their preaching,
to look for the limelight or for quick results.
Teach them to be true to the dark aspects of life
for it is there that they will learn what they must tell in the daylight.
Help them to be comfortable with silence,
because it is what they hear in whispers that they must proclaim on the housetops.
Lord, we remember with gratitude the great people we have known:
– world famous figures like Gandhi, Martin Luther King and Archbishop Romero;
– members of our families;
– leaders in our communities.
We thank you that they were never afraid of what could kill their bodies alone
– prison, torture or the assassin’s bullet;
– unpopularity, failure, or losing their jobs.
But they were mortally afraid of other things
– of insincerity,
– of being unfaithful to themselves
– of whatever could destroy their souls.
“Hope is the thing with feathers that perches in the soul and sings the tune without the words and never stops at all.” …Emily Dickinson
Lord, we remember today the many people who are feeling that no one cares:
– others only see their failures, not how hard they have tried;
– people think they have no problems, when in fact they are heavily burdened.
They feel abandoned like a sparrow that has fallen to the ground
while a hundred others are flying overhead.
Send them someone who will be Jesus for them,
telling them that every hair on their heads has been carefully counted.
“Every single thing we do, provided it has a good and constructive purpose,
is helping our world grow towards its common goal.” …Leonard Cheshire
Lord, when we take a stand on principle we come across as impractical or foolish.
Help us to fear nothing so much as to be disowned in your presence,
and keep as our goal the following of Jesus rather than the approval of society.
Introduction to the Celebration
We are here because we believe that God the Father loves us, and loves us with such care that we can say/ in the words of today’s gospel/ that he even knows the number of hairs on our head. Let us reflect on that love for a moment.
1. There are several notes of fear in today’s gospel. There is the fear that what they – the matthaean churches represented by ‘The Twelve’ – are involved in as Christians is unclear and hidden from the eyes of the ordinary people around them, yet they are expected to proclaim it from the housetops. There is the fear of those who are persecuting the group – they must rather fear God who can destroy them utterly than the earthly persecutor who can only destroy their bodies. This seems cold comfort. You may be worth ‘hundreds of sparrows/ but there is still the threat of one’s body being killed. Then there is the fear that if the community do not witness to Jesus before others, then he will disown them before the Father. This seems to offer support to the old conundrum: ‘The Christian way is a free and joyful choice; but if you do not choose it, you will be condemned to hell for your refusal.’
2. This passage also brings before us the fact that it was part of the primitive kerygma that there is a genuine ultimate fear of God’s justice and, so, of his punishment. Yet ‘preaching hell fire and damnation’ is not a strategy that is in line with the overall thrust of the good news. The problem arises from the fact that we want a consistent ‘message’, yet there is no such consistency to be derived from the surviving early Christian texts. Many people from many different branches of Judaism became followers of Jesus, and so there were many flavours of Christian belief, emphasis, and lifestyle. Here we see traditions preserved that probably reflect the sort of preaching we see with John the Baptist: there is a crunch coming and God will mete out his punishments, while the more characteristic ‘message of Jesus is that there is a crunch coming so form a community of love and God will mete out his mercies. These various strands came together in the traditions of the churches and left a mosaic of positions that has defied nearly two thousand years of attempts at systematisation in catechisms and doctrinal systems.
3. So can these statements be presented today in such a way that they do not become the basis for a gospel of fear? That is the task we face as preachers: accommodating these particular perceptions within a larger picture of what we say about the Father on the basis of what Jesus taught and did.
4. Jesus formed a people and presented God relating to us as members of that new people not as isolated individuals. This is seen in this text in that it is addressed to The Twelve – a unified highly identifiable group – not to twelve individuals who just happened to be together. This warning of fear must be to us as a community/ not to each individually. So the question is: are we as a community sufficiently serious about the message of God in Christ; do we realise the importance of the message entrusted to us; do we realise its urgency? On the whole as a community we fail in this and the evidence is all around us: we live in fractured communities/ we often condone injustice/ We know that there is poverty and suffering in the world – and yet we do nothing. We may Tear for our souls,’ but a glance at a news bulletin shows that most Christian communities are not too fearful for other people’s bodies.
5. So the task of the community is to act together to bear witness to the love and care of God before our fellow human beings. If we seek forgiveness from God, we must forgive fellow humans (the Our Father); if we seek love and care from God, we must offer love and care to others. So can this community organise itself to that it can witness before men and women as caring for those suffering from injustice, hatred, sickness, the exploitation of the environment? If the community can be so seen as the body of Christ, then it can stand as the body of Christ in the presence of the Father.
‘Do not be afraid’ (Mt 10:26). Where have we heard these words before? They are quite familiar to most of us because they have been quoted often by preachers and commentators since the death of Pope John Paul II in 2005. A recurrent theme from the beginning of his pontificate in 1978 was: Do not be afraid.
This was also John Paul’s message to Catholics and to the entire world as he passed from this life to eternal life. His entire life, and especially his final illness, demonstrated that he himself was fearless because of his absolute faith and trust in the person and saving message of Jesus Christ. And he urged everyone else to have the same conviction.
John Paul was not the first person to say ‘Do not be afraid’. In the Old Testament, God said it to the prophets. The angel Gabriel also spoke these words to Mary before telling her that she would become the Mother of the Saviour of the world. Years later, Jesus instructed the Twelve not to be afraid when he commissioned them to continue his work of proclaiming the Good News. The Good News was essentially that the kingdom of heaven was close and that people must undergo conversion from their sinful lives.
Jesus knew that this message, when preached and lived by his disciples, would not always be welcomed. The disciples would frequently be ridiculed and rejected, as he had been. Discipleship would indeed be costly because it would require humility and sacrifice. Therefore, Jesus warned them to be convinced about their message and to be confident that God was with them in every situation. He assured them: ‘If anyone declares himself for me in the presence of men, I will declare myself for him in the presence of my Father in heaven’ (Mt 10:32).
Jesus says the same to us. The apostles were not living in easier times than ours. Yet they willingly suffered for the faith, never making excuses to dilute it or compromise its principles. Neither should we, believing that God loves and supports us in every crisis. Faith dispels fear.
As committed disciples, we are duty bound to proclaim the gospel fearlessly and confidently. This is our baptismal obligation. We are required to be prophetic people by speaking the truth at all times. We will frequently experience opposition and alienation because of our Christian beliefs and we will be tempted to abandon our commitment in order to remain popular. However, popularity in this life does not equate with good standing in the next life.
We can learn from the great heritage of our saints who, even in the face of persecution and martyrdom, did not hesitate to remain faithful to Christ and his teaching. They refused to deny him. Fortunately, most of us do not suffer the threat of martyrdom. Instead, we are asked to become fearless witnesses to Christ in all circumstances and to cope in a dignified manner with ridicule in our workplaces or disagreement among friends and colleagues, perhaps even our families. Let us pray that we will have the courage of our convictions and not be afraid.
For meditationDo not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul; fear him rather who can destroy both body and soul in hell. (Mt 10:28)
************************************************************************Fr Donal Neary, S.J
This is linked to the care of God: in this care and trust of each other we find the trust and care of God/ given and received for ‘where there is love, there is God (1 John 3:7).
From The Connections:
In Matthew’s missionary discourse, Jesus instills in his disciples of the need for courage and discernment in their preaching of the Gospel. The disciple who faithfully proclaims his Gospel can expect to be denounced, ridiculed and abused; but Jesus assures his followers that they have nothing to fear from those who would deprive “the body of life,” for their perseverant and faithful witness to the Gospel will be exalted in the reign of God.
HOMILY THEMES:In the Gospels, Christ reveals a God who loves us and cares for us and every “strand” of creation. Sometimes we are called to be the vehicles of God’s love for those desperate to realize that presence in their lives; sometimes we are the recipients of such blessings of forgiveness and compassion. The providence of God who has “counted . . . all the hairs of your head” manifests itself in the love of family, the comfort of friends, the support of church and community.
In today’s Gospel, Jesus calls us beyond our fears and insecurities; he invites us to embrace a spirit of joy and possibility beyond our comfort zone. Three times in today’s Gospel, Jesus tells his disciples not to be afraid, that we have nothing to fear before God who has proven his love and acceptance of us unreservedly. Christ calls us in to embrace a vision of hope that is the opposite of fear — hope that matches our uncertainty of the unknown with the certainty of the love of God; hope that can only be found and embraced once we reach beyond our own fears to confront the fears and heal the hurts of others; hope that the Good Fridays of our lives will be transformed into Easter completeness.
We “disown” Jesus, not only by what we do, but by what we fail to do. We “deny” Jesus by our silence in the face of injustice, our protecting our own interests at the expense of the common good, our failure to respond to Christ calling us in the cries of the poor, the abused, the desperate and the lost.
Counting the hairs on your headIt was just a few weeks after her surgery; the chemotherapy treatments had begun. Every morning, she would comb her hair — and every morning she would pull out anther clump of her beautiful hair from the brush. This side effect was hitting her harder and harder.
One morning, she felt the top of her head and, for the first time, she could count the strands. But she felt strangely at peace. She held each strand — just as God, in his providence, could count them from the moment God breathed his life into her. She became aware of God present in the love of her family and friends who were supporting and suffering with her. She remembers:
“I felt comfort knowing that God knew how many strands were in my brush, on my pillow, in my hat, and in my hand. God had counted them all. With or without my hair, God knew me and what my future held. I was still afraid — of the cancer, of the chemo, the upcoming brain scan, and its results — but I knew that God would be with me through it all.”
[Adapted from “I lost my hair but not my faith” by Kathryn Lay, Catholic Digest, May 2008.]
Fr. Jude Botelho:
In today’s first reading Jeremiah initially gives vent to his despair, he makes a desperate statement of how he is being persecuted with terrors all around. But immediately he also makes a confident statement of his trust in the Lord to deliver him. Perhaps many people could identify with Jeremiah’s situation. In their despair they are overwhelmed by those seeking to destroy them, yet they also trust in God as their caring deliverer. Jeremiah refused to be intimidated by attacks upon his character, and so he was unafraid to speak out in the name of the Lord. Jeremiah accused the people of sin and warned of God’s judgement upon them. He condemned reliance on military pacts rather than on God. Jeremiah was forced into exile but refused to be silenced.
Others after Jeremiah have also reached great heights of heroic action born of deep convictions. In the twentieth century alone there are many examples. During the Second World War Maximilian Kolbe, the Polish priest who refused to be intimidated by the Nazis, offered his life in exchange for a prisoner, a husband and father, whom the commandant of the concentration camp had singled out for execution. A young girl in Italy refused to be intimidated by a man who threatened to kill her because she refused his sexual advances. And kill her he did on July 6th, 1902. Maria Goretti was declared a saint by Pope Pius XII in 1950. Her mother and Alexander Serenelli, the man who killed her, were present at her canonization.
Charles Miller in ‘Sunday Preaching’
In the Gospel Matthew exhorts his disciples to be fearless witnesses of the Gospel. Jesus, when he sent his disciples out into the world to be his witnesses, knew that they would be fearful. They had good reason to be fearful, knowing the hardships and persecution it would entail. So, not once but three times Jesus said to them, “Do not be afraid.” It is normal and natural that courage will sometimes fail us and that we will be afraid. All those who have accomplished great things have some time or another been afraid. Martin Luther King was afraid, and Jesus himself experienced fear in the garden of Gethsemane. It is not experiencing fear that matters but how we react to fear and whether it controls our life. Basically Jesus suggested that his disciples could move from fear to courage through trust and reliance in God. Jesus urged them to have complete confidence in God who lovingly watches over the life and death of even the smallest and least valuable of his creatures –the sparrows. God knows every detail of our life –even the very hairs on our head are counted, so we can count on his support in every crisis. To live the Christian life requires courage and we can become courageous not by relying on our own strength but on the support of God. As people of faith, we believe that God will give us the strength to cope with every difficulty that comes our way.
Film: A Cry in the Dark (Evil Angels)
In 1980, the Chamberlains, a devout Seventh Day Advent family are camping at Uluru in Central Australia. When the family is eating supper, Azaria, the baby daughter disappears from the tent. Lindy, the mother hears a cry and rushes to check on the baby. Lindy sees a dingo (wild dog) running away but no trace of the child is ever found. Lindy is charged with the murder of her child, and the father, Michael, a pastor as accessory to the murder. The couple pleads innocent and profess their faith in God. In the trial Lindy is found guilty and sentenced to life in prison at hard labour. The Chamberlains, supported by friends, lose appeal after appeal. Finally new evidence is discovered, the Chamberlains win the fight to prove their innocence. A panel of three judges exonerates Lindy and Michael in 1988. -Lindy and Michael were people of faith who were forced to go through public trial and punishment, and who suffered hostility and calumny. In today’s gospel, Jesus instructs the twelve, telling them how to deal with injustice, false accusations, and calumny. He assures his followers that their faith in God will be justified.
Peter Malone in ‘Lights Camera….Faith!’
It takes courage and love...
One day an eagle swooped down from the sky and carried away a tiny baby who was sleeping on the front porch of his mother’s cottage. Nearly everyone in the village ran after it, but the eagle soon placed the baby high on a cliff near its nest. It quickly became evident that the baby might not be recovered. A sailor tried to climb the cliff, but his limbs began to tremble and he had to give up the attempt. Then a shepherd accustomed to climbing tried, but after a short distance he lost his footing and fell to the bottom of the cliff. At last a peasant woman tried. She put her feet on one shelf of the rock, and then on another, and then on a third. Slowly she climbed higher and higher until she reached the eagle’s nest on the top of the cliff. She took the baby in her arms, and then step by step, she began her dangerous descent. She moved slowly and carefully. Finally she stood at the bottom of the cliff with the baby in her arms. She was the baby’s mother.
Archbishop Oscar Romero
Oscar Romero is an outstanding example of being a true witness of Christ. When he was made Archbishop of El Salvador in 1997 he was a conservative. But he soon changed when he saw what was happening. Every Sunday he preached at the Cathedral. His homilies so electrified the country that national affairs halted when he spoke from the altar. He made public the unspeakable crimes being committed by many agents of the government. He was under constant threat of death. Some of his best friends were murdered. And still he would not be silenced. Nor would he go into hiding or exile. “At the first sight of danger the shepherd cannot run and leave the sheep to fend for themselves. I will stay with my people.” He said. According to Romero it didn’t take courage. All it took was the understanding that his enemies dwelt in fear, and that he was not afraid of them, they would have no power over him. They might be able to kill his body, but they would not and could not kill his soul. There is also a story of a priest, who during the genocide in Rwanda (1994) sheltered Tutsis in his house. When a mob arrived at his door and ordered him to release them, he refused to do so. They shot him and took the people away. Even though we may not aspire such heights of heroism people like these are an inspiration to us.
Flor McCarthy in 'New Sunday & Holy Day Liturgies'
Praying for courage
Here is a story of a sea captain who on his retirement skippered a boat taking day trippers to the Shetland Islands. On one trip the boat was full of young people. These young ones laughed at the old captain when they saw him saying a prayer before setting out, because the day was fine. However, they were not long out at sea when a storm suddenly blew up, and the boat began to pitch violently. The terrified passengers came to the captain and asked him to join them in prayer. But he replied, “I say my prayers when it is calm. When it is rough, I attend to my ship.” The lesson is that if we cannot or will not seek God in quiet moments of our lives, we are not likely to find him when trouble strikes. -One of the shortest prayers ever composed was written by a French sailor. It goes like this: “Lord, my boat is small and the ocean is great. Come quickly.”
John Pichappilly in ‘The Table of the Word’
From Fr. Tony Kadavil:
1:"Don’t be afraid! We have four bishops to pray for us."
An elderly woman named Maude had a window seat on a big 747 jetliner that had just taken off for Rome from New York. She had been saving for years to fulfill her dream to visit the Eternal City. But it was her first flight, and she was terrified. Even the stately presence of four bishops seated behind her didn’t help. With fear and trembling she finally opened her eyes and peered out the window, just in time to see one of the plane’s four engines break loose from the wing and disappear into the clouds. "We’re going to die!" she cried out. "We’re going to die!" The stewardess consulted with the pilot who announced to the passengers that everything was under control that they could fly back to New York and land safely with three engines. But Maude continued to cry out, "We’re going to die!" The stewardess went to her and said, "Don’t worry, my dear, God is with us. We have only three engines, but look, we have four bishops to pray for us." To which Maude replied, "I’d rather have four engines and three bishops!" In today’s Gospel Jesus gives us three reasons why we should not be afraid and why we should have the courage of our Christian convictions.
2: Counting the hairs on your head: (“Even all the hairs on your head are counted. “So do not be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.”
Matthew 10: 26-33):It was just a few weeks after her surgery; the chemotherapy treatments had begun. Every morning, she would comb her hair — and every morning she would pull out anther clump of her beautiful hair from the brush. This side effect was hitting her harder and harder. One morning, she felt the top of her head and, for the first time, she could count the strands. But she felt strangely at peace. She held each strand — just as God, in his providence, could count them from the moment God breathed his life into her. She became aware of God present in the love of her family and friends who were supporting and suffering with her. She remembers:“I felt comfort knowing that God knew how many strands were in my brush, on my pillow, in my hat, and in my hand. God had counted them all. With or without my hair, God knew me and what my future held. I was still afraid — of the cancer, of the chemo, the upcoming brain scan, and its results — but I knew that God would be with me through it all.” May we find peace and reason to hope in the providence of God who has “counted . . . all the hairs of your head,” a providence that manifests itself in the love of family, the comfort of friends, the support of church and community. [Adapted from “I lost my hair but not my faith” by Kathryn Lay, Catholic Digest, May 2008.]
3: Fearless St. Chrysostom.
Fidelity to God under persecution can manifest itself in many forms. Chrysostom was the Church leader of Constantinople in the fourth century when Rome was persecuting the Church. The Roman emperor had him arrested and charged with being a Christian, saying that if Chrysostom did not renounce Christ, then the emperor would have him banished from the kingdom. Chrysostom responded to the threat by saying that the emperor could not do so, "because the whole world is my Father's Kingdom." "Then," replied the emperor, "I will take away your life." To which Chrysostom said, "You cannot, for my life is hid with Christ in God." Next threatened with the loss of his treasure, this saint replied, "You cannot, for my treasure is in Heaven where my heart is." The emperor made one last effort: "Then I will drive you away from here and you shall have no friend left." But again, Chrysostom responded, "You cannot, for I have one Friend from whom you can never separate me. I defy you for you can do me no harm." You can do me no harm!
4. Fear of monster under the bed:
A man has been visiting a therapist because he has had a fear of monsters living under his cot. The man has been seeing this doctor for months. Every time he would come in, the doctor would ask, "Have you made any progress?" Every time the man would say "No". The man decided to go and see another doctor. When he went back to his first doctor, the doctor asked, "Have you made any progress?" he said "Yes, I am feeling all better now!" The doctor asked, "What happened?" The man said, "I went to another doctor and he cured me in one session!” The doctor asked, "What did he tell you?" The man said "He just told me to cut off all four legs of my cot and leave no space for the monster".
5. No Fear:
The devil entered the house of an alcoholic. But the drunkard just ignored him. The surprised devil asked him "Do you know who I am?"
"Why of course I know who you are," the man calmly replied. "You're Satan."
"And you're not afraid of me like the others?" the devil asked somewhat puzzled. To which the drunkard replied, "No. Why should I be? I've been married to your sister for the last 25 years.
6: “Keep them worried and anxious:”
C. S. Lewis wrote a book called The Screwtape Letters. "Screwtape" is a devil, a very accomplished devil. Using any trickery he can, Screwtape turns people away from God. By his letters, Screwtape gives advice to Wormwood, his young nephew, who is just learning the deceptive ways of devils. In one letter, Screwtape writes to Wormwood, "Keep them anxious, make certain they are worried about something." Remind people about their fears. Why this advice? Being a devil, Screwtape wants to get people so focused on their fears that they forget God.
7: Fearless St. Teresa.
St. Teresa of Avila is famous as a theologian, reformer of the Carmelite Order, and spiritual advisor to the great medieval Spanish mystic, St. John of the Cross. But Teresa's ministry was not well received in her community. Her sisters had grown lax in faith and practice, and when she called for reform their response was to throw her out of convents that she herself had established. On one occasion, she was turned out at night in the middle of a rainstorm. Dressed only in her coarse wool habit, she climbed into a donkey cart and was riding along when the wheel of the cart hit a ditch and the cart turned over, dumping Teresa into the mud. She sat there, in mud-soaked wool, looked up to heaven, and said, "Lord, if this is the way you treat your friends, it's no wonder that you don't have many." But frustrated as she was, Teresa clung to God.
6. Fear of Sunday (Author Unknown) Fwd by Rev. Deacon Gary Thibodeau)
To make it possible for everyone to attend Church next Sunday, we are going to have a special "No Excuse Sunday":
a) Cots will be placed in the foyer for those who say, "Sunday is my only day to sleep in."
b) There will be a special section with lounge chairs who feel that our pews are too hard.
c) Eye drops will be available for those with tired eyes from watching T.V. late Saturday night.
d) We will have steel helmets for those who say " The roof would cave in if I ever came to Church."
e) Blankets will be furnished for those who think the church is too cold and fans for those who say it is too hot.
f) Score cards will be available for those who wish to list the hypocrites present.
g) Relatives and friends will be in attendance for those who can't go to Church and cook dinner, too.
h) We will distribute "Stamp Out Stewardship" buttons for those who feel that Church is always asking for money.
i) One section will be devoted to trees and grass for those who like to seek God in nature.
k) Doctors and nurses will be in attendance for those who plan to be sick on Sunday.
l) The sanctuary will be decorated with both Christmas poinsettias and Easter lilies for those who never have seen the Church without them.
m) We will provide hearing aids for those who can't hear the preacher and cotton for those who say he is to loud.
Jesus' instructions to his disciples prior to their first mission continue in today's gospel reading. He has been telling them about all the dangers and hardships they may have to put up with and ends by saying (in effect), "What do you expect? A disciple is not greater than his teacher. If the world gives me a bad time, it will give you one too" (Matthew 10:24-25).
So what does Jesus do? Sell them life insurance? Give them bullet-proof vests? Teach them how to diffuse conflict? Hardly. Instead he says, "Don't ever be afraid of your enemies and critics. Even though it's not obvious now, the truth will come out finally. So, speak up; shout it out; stand and deliver" (10:26-27). Oh, my. We don't want to be heroes, especially not religious ones. It's all we can do to get to church on Sundays and we're supposed to be shouting the word of God from the housetops? No way. We're afraid.
But Jesus doesn't quit. "Stop being afraid" (that's the force of the verb); "stop being afraid" -- not just once but always. "Stop being afraid of people who can kill the body but not the soul." The point is that people can hurt us only temporarily because life comes from God. Even if they kill us, God the author of life will raise us. "Don't fear people; fear God" (the one who can kill both body and soul) (10:28).
Contrary to popular opinion, Jesus is saying that the voice of the people is not the voice of God. We worry way too much about what other people say or think of us and far too little about what God thinks of us. We know this is true. We've heard it before. But, it's easier said than done...
In our world where fashions and customs continue to change, where new cars come from the salesroom with built-in obsolescence, where furniture and gadgets quickly go out of style, where children's toys hardly last from one birthday or holiday to the next, and where more and more items become dispensable and disposable (with everything from paper wedding dresses to throwaway flashlights), less and less emphasis is placed upon quality, authenticity and durableness, and more and more significance is set upon discardableness, throwaway-ness, and cheapness.
We live in an age where great effort is made to make things as inexpensive, impermanent and short-lived as possible, with oftimes only a fake appearance of being attractive and usable - an appearance which all too often disappears and is gone.
Now the sad thing, the eternally sad thing about this discardableness is not primarily that our highways and roadsides are littered and unsightly, that our beaches and resort areas are checkered with styrofoam cups, plasticware and tin cans, nor that our closets and garages are cluttered and disorderly, or that our municipal dump heaps are burning with continual air and atmosphere pollution. These things are bad in themselves. However, the really sad thing is that people transfer this posture of temporalness, carelessness, and cheapness to their own souls, the one aspect about ourselves which God tells us is immortal and worth more than the whole world combined - more than billions in cash, bonds and real estate. "... the things which are seen are temporal; but the things which are not seen are eternal." (2 Corinthians 4:18) "For what is a man profited, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? Or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul?" (Matthew 16:26)
Why is the soul so precious, so important, worth more than the whole world? There are several reasons....
__________________________Humor: What God Can't Do
A Sunday school teacher was examining her pupils after a series of lessons on God's omnipotence. She asked: "Is there anything God can't do?"
There was silence. Finally, one lad held up his hand. The teacher, disappointed that the lesson's point had been missed, asked: "Well, just what is it that God can't do?" "Well," replied the boy: "He can't please everybody."
Gary W. Houston, Cowherding Christians, CSS Publishing Company
________________________________Religion: A 500 Pound Word
When you talk about religion, it's a 500-pound word. Religion has become something heavy, but I don't believe religion is heavy. I believe that it's joy. Religion is not the sandbags, it's the gas balloons that raise us up.
It's not the sandbags that hold us down. To me, religion gets in the way of God many times with ritual. God wants relationship, not ritual. And he wants love, not laws. He wants righteousness. He wants it to be in our lives, a part of our lives, and not just something we go through. I think joy has a big part in religion. In the Bible it says, "Raise your voices in a joyful noise." You know, dance, dance before me.
Mike Thaler, "Bible Stories to Tickle Your Soul," The Door, January-February 2001, 5.
____________________________With or Without People?
A second grader once asked his teacher how much the earth weighed. The teacher looked up the answer in an Encyclopedia. "Six thousand million, million tons," she answered. The little boy thought for a minute and then asked, "Is that with or without people?" Viewed from one perspective, it might very well seem that people don't really matter very much. After all, we are but microscopic inhabitants of a tiny planet orbiting a relatively obscure star in a small galaxy among the billions and billions of stars and galaxies that make up creation. Yet the God of creation has counted the very hairs of our heads. Wow! What a magnificent picture of God.
King Duncan, The Love of a Father,www.Sermons.com
Robert Frost's first assignment for a class of teachers was to read "The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County." This was Mark Twain's famous story about a frog that lost a jumping contest because he had been pumped full of quail shot. When the class next assembled they were mystified because they did not understand what this story had to do with a course in education.
Frost patiently explained to them that this particular story was about teachers. He said that there were two kinds of teachers. There was the kind that filled you with so much quail shot that you could not move and the kind that gave you a little prod on the behind so that you could jump to the skies.
Gary W. Houston, Cowherding Christians, CSS Publishing Company
_________________________Your Mission, Should You Accept It
I played in the high school band before the days of flag corps, rifle drill teams and dance routines. Everything depended on the band and its abilities and talents in playing and marching. Every week we had to learn an entire new set of songs, to go with our new marching formations to be performed at half time of the football games. We all received our instructions early in the week and then practiced them until we got them right. They were not always easy: count time, play the music, step out on the appropriate measure and move exactly eight steps every five yards. As long as everyone followed their set of instructions, the maneuvers on the field were correct and the trombones did not run into the clarinets. Of course, if you missed a beat, or turned the wrong way, you could, as I did on one occasion, end up at one end of the field while the rest of the band was at the other. It's not easy trying to convince everyone that you were right and the other 64 were wrong!
The disciples are called to march, to move out with a special mission in the world. Matthew heard those moving words as addressed not only to him but to all who would join the movement in the years to come. There is about them an echo of the old television program "Mission: Impossible!" I can hear the words coming through: "Your mission, Matthew, should you decide to accept it...."
Larry M. Goodpaster, Like a Breath of Fresh Air, CSS Publishing Company
_____________________________The Importance of Rooftops in Jesus' Day
Rooftops were places of great activity in Bible times. The high, open, flat surfaces were perfect for winnowing chaff from grain, drying fruit, storing grain, nuts, and fruit, and sun-bleaching laundry.
Rooftops were also household gathering places because so much work was done there, and they were sleeping places on the hot nights of summer.
But rooftops, because of their height, their openness, and frequent assemblies of people, rooftops were great places from which to shout the news.
____________________Lord Jesus, teach me to be generous,
teach me to serve you as you deserve,
to give and not to count the cost,
to fight and not heed the wounds,
to toil and not to seek for rest,
to labor and not to seek reward,
except that of knowing that I do your will.
St. Ignatius of Loyola
___________________________The Work of the Righteous
In his book, Emotional Intelligence, Daniel Goleman recounts a story of an American soldier inVietnam. His platoon was hunkered down in the rice paddies locked into the heat of a firefight with the Vietcong.
The rice fields in Vietnam are often separated by an earthen beam, and on this day, a line of six Buddhist monks started walking along the elevated beam separating the field where the American soldiers lay hugging the ground and the field where the Vietcong were also crouched in battle.
The monks walked directly toward the line of fire, calmly and steadily. They did not look to the left or to the right, they just kept walking. The soldier reported, "It was really strange because nobody shot at 'em. And after they walked over the beam, suddenly all the fight was out of me. It just didn't feel like I wanted to do this anymore, at least not that day. It must have been that way for everybody, because everybody quit. We just stopped fighting."
Of course, I cannot say what any of us are called to do right now. I can only say that anyone who chooses to walk with God may well be completely out of step with the expectations of the office, the neighborhood or the family. Sometimes, it seems, God's people are called to walk right through the field of fire, faithfully, sacrificially, loyally, doing what we have been called to do.
Roger Ray, When God Won't Be Nice
_________________________Do Not Call It Sacrifice
A couple, visiting in Korea, saw a father and his son working in a rice paddy. The old man guided the heavy plow as the boy pulled it.
"I guess they must be very poor," the man said to the missionary who was the couple's guide and interpreter.
"Yes," replied the missionary. "That's the family of Chi Nevi. When the church was built, they were eager to give something to it, but they had no money. So they sold their ox and gave the money to the church. This spring they are pulling the plow themselves."
After a long silence, the woman said, "That was a real sacrifice."
The missionary responded: “They do not call it a sacrifice. They are just thankful they had an ox to sell.”