• Rev. Lawrence E. Polansky

12th Sunday in Ordinary Time (A)

"Do not be afraid of those who kill the body."

Entrance Antiphon: Ps 28(27):8-9 — “The Lord is the strength of His people, a saving refuge for the one He has anointed. Save Your people, Lord, and bless your heritage, and govern them for ever.”

First Reading: Jer 20:10-13 — “He has rescued the life of the poor from the power of the wicked.”

Responsorial Psalm: Ps 69:8-10, 14, 17, 33-35 — “Lord, in Your great love, answer me.”

Second Reading: Rom 5:12-15 — “The gift is not like the transgression.”

Alleluia: Jn 15:26b, 27a — Alleluia, alleluia. “The Spirit of truth will testify to Me, says the Lord; and you also will testify.” Alleluia, alleluia.

Gospel: Mt 10:26-33 — “Do not be afraid of those who kill the body.”

Communion Antiphon: Ps 145(144):15 — “The eyes of all look to You, Lord, and You give them their food in due season.”

Good Morning! Let me begin by saying Happy Father’s Day to all Dads, Grand-dads, and Great-Grand-dads! Happy Father’s Day to all Dads-to-Be, God-Fathers, Step-Fathers, Uncles, and Spiritual Fathers. And Happy Father’s Day to all those who treat us as if they were our Dads … Happy Father’s Day … Enjoy your day!

An elderly woman who had worked all of her life as a seamstress had finally saved enough money to fulfill her wish to visit the Holy Land. She had never been on a plane before and she was very afraid. Even the presence of four bishops on the plane did little to calm her. Only after the jet had reached altitude and was making its way over the ocean did the woman dare to open her eyes and look out the window. Just at that moment, one of the plane’s engines broke loose from its bearings and disappeared downward. “We’re all going to die!” she shouted.

In an effort to calm her and to avoid panic on the plane, the flight attendant assured the frightened woman that everything was under control. The pilot could fly back to New York and land safely with three engines. But the woman continued to cry out, “We’re going to die!” Again the attendant assured her, “Don’t worry, God is with us. We have only three engines, but look, we have four bishops!” To that the woman quickly replied, “I’d rather have four engines and three bishops.”

As comical as it is, this story underscores a very serious aspect of the human experience – fear, and the fact that our fears sometimes gain the upper hand in our lives. Who or what are you afraid of? What is it that makes you catch your breath and causes your heart to pound in your chest? For the woman in this story, it was the fear of flying and of crashing. Others among us fear public speaking and the possibility of embarrassing ourselves in front of others. Some fear heights … others shudder at storms. Some fear the insecurity of losing a job. Some are fearful of snakes or spiders or rats or roaches. Others fear growing old, sickness and the inevitable day when each of us will meet God. Still others fear war, famine, disease, and yes, even global warming. Obviously, there are various kinds and many degrees of fear.

The Jesus of Saint Matthew’s Gospel is fully aware of everything that can cause fear to rise up within and strangle human strengths and freedoms. Jesus speaks to all those fears – large and small, reasonable and unreasonable and says simply, “Do not be afraid.” He knew that His Disciples would have many reasons to fear the future. They would be made to suffer because of their belonging to Him and their sharing in His ministry. Jesus did not sugarcoat or diminish the dangers that His followers would encounter. As our Second Reading today pointed out, because of the reality of sin in the world, there would be those who will resist the truth and attempt to silence the ones who speak it. This Jesus knew … and this He experienced.

Like the prophets who preceded them, Jesus and the Apostles would be made to suffer for their commitment. In the first reading, Jeremiah freely shared his struggles with his readers, but more importantly, he also shared his antidote to fear. “The Lord is with me like a mighty champion.” This conviction enabled the prophet to survive the attempts on his life and to continue to preach God’s word. It enabled him to curse the day he was born in one breath and to praise God in the next. Jeremiah knew fear, but fear did not conquer him.

Jesus desired to ease the fears of His followers in a similar way by reminding them of God’s careful, loving presence. With uncanny vigilance, God attends every human being at every moment. All is known to God. With these assurances, Jesus encouraged His followers not to nurse their fears. Rather, faith should make fear manageable and eventually destroy it all together. I received a letter when I first entered seminary and while I don’t remember where these statements were cited from, I clearly remember the quote. “Fear imprisons, faith liberates … fear paralyzes, faith empowers … fear disheartens, faith encourages … fear sickens, faith heals … fear makes useless, faith makes serviceable – and most of all – fear puts hopelessness at the heart of life while faith rejoices in its God.”

And so, whether there are three engines and four bishops or four engines and three bishops, it is our faith in God alone that will in the end, eliminate all fear. Jeremiah did not have the benefit of the Eucharist as we do. Each time we eat and drink at the Lord’s Table, we blend our fears and our struggles with those that Jesus knows from personal experience and those that He knows because He lives in us. Life is hard. It may sound trite, but Jesus because of who He is and what He experienced, really does feel our pain. As St. John Vianney once preached, “You must accept your cross; if you carry it courageously, it will carry you to heaven.” In today’s Eucharist, let us ask for the grace to do so.

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