The Twelfth Sunday in Ordinary Time – 21 June 2020
Lectionary Readings: Jer 20:10-13; Ps 69:8-10, 14, 17, 33-35; Rom 5:12-15; Matt 10:26-33
Theme: Do not fear
The “Do not fear” command of Jesus to the disciples serves as the unifying principle in today’s gospel which scholars have said to be a collection of disparate sayings. The command is said three times. In Matt 10:26, the disciples were told, “Do not have fear of them; for nothing is covered up that will not be uncovered, and nothing secret that will not become known.” In v. 28, they were told, “Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul; rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell.” And in vv. 30-31, they were assured they were valuable: “And even the hairs of your head are all counted. So do not be afraid; you are of more value than many sparrows.” These “do not fear” commands provided encouragement and consolation but also forewarned challenges.
What is the context for today’s gospel? Who are the “them” referred to in v. 26? Scholars have called Matt 10 as the mission discourse and divided it into three parts: the mission to go the lost sheep of the house of Israel (10:5-15), future sufferings (10:16-26) and other instructions (10:26-42). Their mission was to proclaim that the kingdom of heaven is near and they were to “heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse lepers, cast out demons” (10:8) – tasks that correspond to what Jesus has done in Matt 8 and 9.
They were to share in the power of Jesus (10:1) but might also suffer from persecution, even within their families. This echoes the long tradition of suffering in the Hebrew bible like the oppression before the exodus, the wandering in the wilderness, the crisis that led to the monarchy, the destruction of the first temple, the exile, among others. In short, the disciples were to be like Jesus – a preacher, healer and good shepherd. In Matt 9:35-36, when Jesus was preaching, he “took pity at the crowds for they were harassed, torn apart, like a sheep not having a shepherd.”
This description of the people as torn and harassed may be used to describe many people around the globe who are suffering from the COVID-19 pandemic. Hence, especially in this time of the pandemic, like the disciples we are called to help our Church authorities and workers and share in the mission to “heal, raise, cleanse and cast out.” Proclaiming our faith, staying true to our beliefs may be easier said than done in a time described as secularism, when one is easily disparaged or stereotyped especially in some parts of the world for being a Christian. While suffering is part of our Christian DNA, we learn from the gospel today that we are loved by God and that we are not to be afraid and only fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell. We fear him who has the real power over life and death and the life after.
For Reflection and Discussion: 1. What has been your greatest fear in life? 2. What needs healing, raising, cleansing and casting out in your present life? What are ways we can help heal, raise, cleanse and cast out in others?
Bibliography: Harrington, ed., Sacra Pagina: The Gospel of Matthew (Minnesota: 2007)