12th Sunday in Ordinary Time – 25th June 2017

You are precious

First Reading

Jeremiah 20:10-13

Jeremiah said:

I hear so many disparaging me,
‘“Terror from every side!”
Denounce him! Let us denounce him!’
All those who used to be my friends
watched for my downfall,
‘Perhaps he will be seduced into error.
Then we will master him
and take our revenge!’
But the Lord is at my side, a mighty hero;
my opponents will stumble, mastered,
confounded by their failure;
everlasting, unforgettable disgrace will be theirs.
But you, O Lord of Hosts, you who probe with justice,
who scrutinise the loins and heart,
let me see the vengeance you will take on them,
for I have committed my cause to you.
Sing to the Lord,
praise the Lord,
for he has delivered the soul of the needy
from the hands of evil men.

Second Reading

Romans 5:12-15

Sin entered the world through one man, and through sin death, and thus death has spread through the whole human race because everyone has sinned. Sin existed in the world long before the Law was given. There was no law and so no one could be accused of the sin of ‘law-breaking’, yet death reigned over all from Adam to Moses, even though their sin, unlike that of Adam, was not a matter of breaking a law.

Adam prefigured the One to come, but the gift itself considerably outweighed the fall. If it is certain that through one man’s fall so many died, it is even more certain that divine grace, coming through the one man, Jesus Christ, came to so many as an abundant free gift.

Gospel Reading

Matthew 10:26-33

Jesus instructed the Twelve as follows: ‘Do not be afraid. For everything that is now covered will be uncovered, and everything now hidden will be made clear. What I say to you in the dark, tell in the daylight; what you hear in whispers, proclaim from the housetops.

‘Do 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. Can you not buy two sparrows for a penny? And yet not one falls to the ground without your Father knowing. Why, every hair on your head has been counted. So there is no need to be afraid; you are worth more than hundreds of sparrows.

‘So 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. But the one who disowns me in the presence of men, I will disown in the presence of my Father in heaven.’

Scripture readings – Courtesy of Universalis Publishing Ltd. – www.universalis.com

REFLECTION

“You are precious”

by Paul Binh

The Sparrow is a kind of small bird. In Jesus’ time, they were regarded as almost worthless. They were sold as food for the poor people. Two sparrows for a penny, and five sparrows for two pennies. The fifth sparrow was thrown in for nothing. However, not one of them falls to the ground without God knowing. Jesus says this as an example to affirm that God cares about everything, even what is little.

Today’s society keeps us always busy, worrying about tomorrow. We try to build a secure and comfortable shell for ourselves. We are afraid of going out of our protected space, because we will have to face many troubles outside. Jesus says “do not be afraid”, God the Father will take care of us.

Saying God will take care of us does not mean that we won’t have any challenge or suffering. Christian life is never without suffering. Jesus never promised his followers a life of comfort, but a life with suffering and persecution. However, our suffering and persecution that will not go for nothing. God did not create us in his image for nothing. He created us for a precious purpose which is to know him and to make him known to the world. We are all valuable in the eyes of God.

Yes, the Christian life is not easy to live, particularly in today’s world in which the children of God are being persecuted in different ways in many places. And many of our sisters and brothers paid with their lives for their Christian faith. Jesus encourages us not to give up our witness to God because of those who can kill the body but can’t kill the soul.

Dear sisters and brothers, especially those who are young, if God calls you to bring his love to the world, do not be afraid of responding to him. It will be a tough life but God is always with you, loves you, and protects you in every single step that you walk.

LECTIO DIVINA

by Fr Juan José Bartolomé SDB

Introduction to Lectio Divine

When he saw that his solo effort was not enough to evangelise all Israel, Jesus delegated his mission and his powers to a small circle of disciples. Before sending them out, he gave them instructions for the task.  Since they were to be his representatives, they would have to exercise the mission according to his directives.  The Church has always seen in these rules an incentive and an ideal for its evangelising work. Remembering them today can be a way for us to become apostles of Christ, and as such, to present ourselves to the world without any inferiority complex. Knowing we have been sent by Jesus to the world as the first apostles were, should restore our confidence in ourselves. If Christ continues to count on us and if he needs us to bring the gospel to our world, then we have no need to feel insignificant or, worse still, to continue to live our faith in fear of the world.

Read: understand what the text is saying, focussing on how it says it

Our text belongs to the missionary discourse. When Jesus had chosen the twelve (10.1-4) and when they were sent out with the first instructions (10.5 – 15), Jesus spoke to them about persecution and suffering (10.16 – 25). It makes sense for him to counsel them now, urging them not to be overcome by fear (10.26 – 33). The construction of the paragraph is based on a triple negative “do not fear” (10,26a.28a.31a), which clearly presents the new theme. The first two negatives introduce the topic; the third one serves as a conclusion.

The fear Jesus is talking about is not just any fear, but the fear that comes with having to bear witness to Jesus, a fear that would emerge from being sent by him to speak on his behalf. Each command is supported by an argument (10, 26b-27; 10, 28b-30; 10,31b) offering reasons that, at first glance, do not always seem relevant. The contrast is clear when he speaks about what is covered and what is revealed, what is hidden and what is made known, about darkness and light. Clearly it refers to the apostolic preaching.  They cannot be silent if the gospel of God is to come (10, 26b-27). The second exhortation is more convincing: they are to be afraid of the one who is really formidable, who has power not only over the body, but who can cause them to lose both body and soul (10, 28b-31). The comparison with the sparrows that God takes care of makes it even more evident that God takes care of the apostles, even their hair, which is the part of the body that can most easily get lost. Obviously the intention is to strengthen the confidence of the disciples who will be persecuted as they preach. The third exhortation (10.32 – 33), formulated in antithesis to the first two, closes the paragraph forcefully.   The motivation for their trust is based on eschatological hope reminiscent of the wisdom literature.  The apostle must profess his faith without fear. The testimony of Jesus before God will depend on our testimony of Jesus before men.

Meditate: apply what the text says to life

Matthew recalls the teaching of Jesus to his disciples in a catechesis addressed to missionaries of his community. Fear is forbidden to the apostles of Jesus. His words are not afraid of silence or darkness, neither should the people he sends be afraid of death.  Their life is in the hands of the Father and this makes them valuable in his eyes.  This is what should concern them. God takes care not only of their lives, but even of the hair of their heads.

The Father’s care for those he sends includes even the least sensitive and most useless parts of their body. If they realize this then they can face the task of giving witness. Christ will take the side of those who are on his side and will deny those who disown him. The Apostle’s confidence comes from the gospel that leads him to give public testimony and from the certainty that God is behind his life and watches over it. And the promise that Jesus will not be neutral with those who take his side before men, gives the apostle courage to face the risks involved in evangelization.  Will anyone who is sure that they are worth so much before God, lose courage before so little?

In fact, the first rule of conduct that Jesus taught his apostles is the absence of fear. The Christian who knows he is the representative of Christ in his environment, does not carry out his mission in pain or in silence. The gospel is God’s message to be proclaimed to the people and to be lived in public.  Today, in many ways, many want to impose on us Christians if not silence, at least, the privatization of our faith. In our society we are supposed to be free to believe as we please, but public practice of the faith carries with it challenges that we meet with joy and with a healthy pride. And the worst thing is that many of us get used to proclaiming God in private. We avoid public witness, as if we were not too convinced of what we believe and not convinced that it is worth following the God we believe in. We put God to one side in our conscience or confine God to our hearts.

Human respect drowns out our public expressions of faith and magnifies our fears. This is not that what Jesus wanted of his apostles.   If we do not overcome this fear of being seen for what we are, we will not be what God wants us to be. If we are not seen to be happy to be Christians, our choice will not be attractive and our witness will not be credible. Of what value are a faith that is not expressed, a hope that does not dare to manifest itself, and a love that is not given? We believers are now the worst enemies of Christ, even worse than those who do not believe. If we remain silent about what interests us most, we will not convince anyone of what Christ means to us. If we are not willing to suffer even a misunderstanding because of our faith, we do not deserve much credibility for what we believe.

However, it is not the fear of ridicule that prevents most people from giving Christian witness. The fear of losing oneself is what is causing the number of apostles to decrease.  Today, unlike in the past, Christians need not fear for their lives. Thank God, we are not at great risk when we go out today to preach Christ. However, this does not make the witness of our lives more courageous. The most the people think when they see us is that we are a bit old-fashioned or perhaps that we do not have much of a future. But no one threatens our life to make us give up our faith. Perhaps for this reason, the temptation to waver is more subtle and defections are more frequent. Nowadays we lose our faith before we lose our lives. Our conviction is not as strong as, and does not last as long as, our desire to prosper in society.  We hide our faith even more than we hide our poverty. We value prosperity today above paradise tomorrow. And because we are only half convinced of our faith and unable to remain strong in our convictions, we will never be credible witnesses of God.

It is consoling, without doubt, to know that the apostle of Christ is forbidden to fear. But it is even more comforting to remember the reason for it, which is that God takes care of those who take care of his interests and of the gospel. Anyone who gives his or her life and energy that God may be known and loved, will soon know God’s love and his care. When we put ourselves at risk for God, God covers our backs. It is not only the life or the soul of the apostle, but even the hair of his head, that comes under divine protection. The God of Jesus will not be outdone in generosity. Those who put their lives at God’s disposal to proclaim his love for men, will find clear evidence in their own lives of God’s love for them. Devoting a bit more time to his kingdom, and a bit more desire, compels God to devote his time and his love to us. While the apostles will have their hands full in the preaching of the gospel, their life will be in the hands of his God, in the hands of a God who takes care of them far more generously than he cares for the sparrows. They will have nothing to fear and much to look forward to.

Knowing this should make us more enterprising in giving witness. It lets us take risks without worrying too much and it overcomes our unfounded fears. Knowing that God is concerned about those who proclaim him, should make us more courageous and more trustworthy witnesses.  How do we reconcile our belief that God is our protector with the fear that prevent us from living as if God’s protection were real? It is hard to understand how those sent by Christ believe that they have the protection of God and, soon after, let themselves be intimidated by adverse comments or give way before the slightest difficulty. We are not risking anything when we give voice to the Gospel today because God has counted even the hair on our heads. Tomorrow Christ himself will become our advocate with God.

And as if that were not enough, Jesus has pledged to defend before God those who have defended him before men. He will choose, in the presence of his Father, those who have chosen him before the world. Only those who have denied him before men, will not be recognized by him before his Father. If it were not enough to know that God ensures the life of those who take risks for the sake of his kingdom, Jesus warns us that he will disown those who deny him or keep silent about him in this world. We are risking too much when we refuse to be witnesses of God in the world. If we put ourselves on the side of Jesus today, we will compel Jesus to declare himself on our side when we present ourselves on the Day of Judgment. If Christ is on the side of the apostles who are on his side, how come there are so many among us who remain indifferent and fail to take his side?

Since the need was great, Jesus commanded all those around him to preach. The absence of God in the world we live in is no less today than it was then. If we fail Christ by refusing to bear witness to him, just because it is becoming increasingly difficult, it will not be very difficult for us to be disowned as authentic disciples. Faith in Christ is maintained if we testify publicly. We do not save our faith by hiding or concealing it. Faith that is not offered to others is not attractive and a life of faith that is hidden for fear of ridicule is not trustworthy.  Christ expects every Christian to be his witness.

PRAYER

Lord God,
teach us at all times to fear and love your holy name,
for you never withdraw your guiding hand
from those you establish in your love.
Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever.
Amen.

IMAGE

YouArePrecious