The world today is filled with terrifying experiences such that survival poses much fear to greater number of persons. Our fears may militate from anxiety to be successful, avoidance of failure like the case of Jeremiah in the first reading, eviction threats from Northen brothers, family challenges (quarrels, hardship manifesting in difficulty in feeding, payment of school fees e.t.c), office matters; e.t.c. Jesus’ word today is most apt as a panacea to today’s predicament. “Do not be afraid.” How good it is for someone who is worried to hear those words from Jesus. Jesus knew we needed to hear those words. “Do not be afraid.” Jesus, who was human as well as divine, knew that some of us need to be reminded again and again not to worry. So many times in the Gospels we hear Jesus asking us not to worry. Three times in today’s Gospel we hear Jesus saying, “Do not be afraid.” The reason why Jesus tells us these words is that the Heavenly Father has great concern for us all. He knows us well, our person, our well being, our needs. Prophet Jeremiah tells us to expel from our mind all fear and worry because God is with us and he will protect us from all evil. He invites us therefore to commit our cause to God. At the same time St Paul tells us that the grace of God is great and it is a free gift given to us in and through Jesus. That is the reason why we do not have any reason to worry or fear. Hence the central theme of today’s reading is that we should expel all fear and anxiety from our minds by cherishing an unshakable confidence in the never failing providence of God.
In the First Reading from the Book of Jeremiah, we are presented with an event that took place when the Lord God called the great prophet Jeremiah as His spokesman to warn the people of the coming judgment that awaited Israel because of their sins. Sensitive that he was he never wanted to be a prophet since he knew the conflicts and the evil behaviour of the people. His fidelity to his mission brought him nothing but heartbreak. The unbelievers laughed at Jeremiah. They plotted against him so that they could silence him. He was denounced for speaking on behalf of God and was put in prison. His former friends sided with his enemies and he knew the whispers of many. They had made several attempts on his life. They were watching when he would fail so that they could take revenge. Feeling alone, betrayed, discouraged and even abandoned by God he sensed a sense of anger mixed with his trust in God. Frustrated with the people who lived in sin, Jeremiah decided to keep quiet, to stop talking on behalf of the Almighty Lord God. But Jeremiah was burning with such an intense fire within his heart that he could no longer keep quiet. He had to speak on behalf of the Lord. Yet Jeremiah understands God’s love for his people and expresses his confidence in him in the midst of all trials.
Though He may permit us to suffer for our faith, our Father will never forget or abandon us. As Jesus assures us today, everything unfolds in His Providence, under His watchful gaze—even the falling of the tiniest sparrow to the ground. Each one of us is precious to Him.
Steadfast in this faith, we must resist the tactics of Satan. He is the enemy who seeks the ruin of our soul in Gehenna, or hell. The same enemy threatens us with fear and torments.
One is moved to ask; what is Gehenna? This is a place associated with perpetual fire and suffering. It is usually identified with a valley along the southern wall of the city of Jerusalem. In ancient times this valley was the site of a refuse collection station serving the city of Jerusalem. The northern part of Jerusalem is higher in elevation than its southern part, and it was efficient to use the southern exit and the Valley of Gehenna to collect trash and other waste. This site was kept burning to reduce the volume of refuse, and the people counted on prevailing east winds to blow the smell associated with this dump away from Jerusalem and out into the wilderness.
Hence at the time of Jesus, mention of this valley would evoke images of refuse, filth, perpetual fire, smoke, worms, and decay allowing him to make a comparison between the kingdom of God and the kingdom of the world. We want to be in the kingdom of God because there we know God loves us and wants us to remain with him forever. The alternative is not pleasant, but it must be acknowledged as a possible eternal fate if we are going to preach the authentic gospel with our words and with our lives. We all have an eternal destiny.
Jesus consoles us in spite of life’s torments. Sparrows were one of the cheapest articles sold in the Jewish market, yet God knows even when a small bird dies and if He cares about the least of His creation (verse 29), how much more will He be concerned about us! Hence, in saying that God has counted all our hairs (verse 30), Jesus is saying that God cares for each of our lives in a degree beyond words. It is a care – so to speak – that is even concerned with the seemingly meaningless counting of the hairs of the head. The awareness of such care removes fear (verse 31) of those who threaten the believer with physical torture and death. The basis of confessing Jesus in word and deed is founded on assurance of His care through thick and thin. The reward of confessing Jesus (verses 32-33) is that He will accept us according to our fidelity and reject us according to infidelity.
We are to seek God, as the Psalmist says. Zeal for the Lord’s house, for the heavenly kingdom of the Father, should consume us, as it consumed Jesus (Jn 2.17). As Jesus bore the insults of those who blasphemed God, so should we. That is why we proclaim His name from the housetops, as Jesus tells us. That is why we sing praise and offer thanksgiving in every Eucharist. We are confident in Jesus’ promise—that we who declare our faith in Him before others will be remembered before our heavenly Father. With this knowledge then why are you afraid?
Therefore, we are called to make daily critical choices in the shaping of our lives. To make critical choices well, it is imperative to reflect upon the word of God – especially the Gospel – in daily prayer and worship.
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