Our Christian life was never meant to be easy. Our Lord often tests our faith, and sometimes severely, in order to find out just how sincere we are about living out our faith.
These tests may come from the circumstances around us, the times in which we live, and even they may come from those who are closest to us, family, friends, co-workers. Yet, Our Lord teaches us to persevere to the end. Because this world is not our final destination, it is not our lasting home. Scripture tells us that here we have no lasting city (Heb. 13:14). And our Lord teaches this to His disciples and to us in this week’s Gospel.
Up to this point, Jesus has been with them, preaching and teaching. Now, He is on the cusp of sending them out into the world to preach themselves. He warns them that He sends them out as “sheep among wolves”, and that they may even be put to death for proclaiming the Gospel. And so, understandably, the disciples are afraid, particularly of martyrdom. This is why several times in our Gospel, Jesus says to them, “Fear no one” and “Do not be afraid”. He tells them that there is something worse than bodily death: that is, the death of the soul. “Do not be afraid of those who can kill the body but not kill the soul; rather be afraid of the one who can destroy both body and soul in Gehenna.” Gehenna was Jesus’ reference to eternal separation from God. It was an area around Jerusalem that was relegated as a garbage dump because in ancient times, there was severe idol worship in which children were sacrificed to the god Molech.
The prophet Jeremiah was similarly frightened of his lot as the one who speaks for God. Jeremiah has been hearing rumors of “Terror on every side,” and of those who would denounce him for speaking the truth of God. They would even lay snares and traps for him.
The more things change, the more they stay the same. The enemy of our souls has been planting such terrors for us in our world, even today. News reports and other rumors tend to bait us into forgetting our Christian identity. Reports of riots, conspiracy theories, and rumors of those who would ruin lives of those who speak the truth. Yet, what is missing in all of this? Jesus’ command to “love our enemies, and do good to those who hate and calumniate us.” Jesus’ command to forgive others their transgressions against us, and turning the other cheek, so as not to perpetuate the cycle of hatred, anger and violence.
But most of all, as we see in our readings, let us reclaim the lost conviction of trust in the Lord. Jeremiah even proclaims, “But the LORD is with me, like a mighty champion … For to you I have entrusted my cause.” Here, he uses the unpronounceable name of God, the one the Jews dare not utter, rendered so often as “Adonai”. So powerful is our God, that He has the power to rescue us from the power of the wicked, lest we think that the wicked has so much power and can overtake us. With God on our side, we will prevail.
In our Gospel, Our Lord Jesus reassures His disciples that God keeps His children in mind, He has not forgotten us. He will not throw us under the bus: “Are not two sparrows sold for a small coin, Yet not one of them falls to the ground without your Father’s knowledge … you are worth more than many sparrows.” And, of course, the most telling line for me: “Even the hairs on your head are counted.” Not such a hard task for the Lord in my case.
It is so easy for us to look around at the world, falling apart around our ears, and slide into despair. We must remember that our ultimate citizenship is in heaven, from which we await a Savior. Trust in God to save us from that fate worse than death: separation from Him for all eternity. In the midst of the chaos and the hatred, let us never forget who we are at our core: disciples of Jesus Christ, who is the Way the Truth and the Life. Let us forgive as the Lord has forgiven us. Let us love even our enemies, and let us never perpetuate the anger and hatred around us, by giving in to vengeance.
Let us ask What would Jesus do? and then do it!