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A Reflection for the Twelfth Sunday in Ordinary Time

June 21, 2020

The eighteenth-century German author Johann Wolfgang von Goethe once wrote that, “All beginnings are delightful; the threshold is the place to pause.” At the start of this week’s reflection, it is helpful for us to take a step back and pause at the threshold of Matthew’s Gospel to take a global view of the text. Most biblical scholars agree that the Gospel is structured around five discourses of Jesus. Some even suggest that these five discourses parallel the first five books of the Old Testament, and so constitute a kind of Christian Torah. However that may be, for several weeks now our Gospel readings have been taken from the First Discourse, better known as The Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7). Today’s Gospel comes from the Second or Missionary Discourse (Matthew 10), in which Jesus gives instructions to the Twelve Apostles about their going forth to preach among the towns and villages of Galilee and Judea.

Our Gospel excerpt (Mt:26-33) follows immediately after the Lord warning His Apostles that no disciple is better than his teacher or no servant is above his master. If the authorities believe Jesus to be in league with Beelzebul, i.e., the Devil, what then will they say (and do) to the Apostles? In response to this looming threat,

Jesus utters the most frequently given command in all of Sacred Scripture: Do not be afraid! Our New American Bible translation renders it: Fear no one. By some counts, this exhortation occurs 365 times. If only by the sheer frequency with which it is repeated, we may safely conclude that God is trying to tell us something.

Jesus provides two concrete reasons why His followers should be fearless in the face of intimidation and persecution. Firstly, His real identity as God’s only Son and Messiah will ultimately be revealed, thus vindicating His life, death and resurrection. (“Nothing is concealed that will not be revealed, nor secret that will not be known.”) And secondly, God’s knowledge of and care for each of His children – what theologians call God’s divine providence – ensures that He is intimately involved in our lives and that He walks with us in love through the many and varied circumstances of life, especially the most difficult. (“Are not two sparrows sold for a small coin? Yet not one of them falls to the ground without your Father’s knowledge. Even all the hairs of your head are counted. So do not be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.”)

One of Jesus’ best known disciples in our time was the Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. He was a Baptist minister and civil rights activist who lived the Missionary Discourse of the Lord at great personal cost. The Rev. King wrote:

“Due to my involvement in the struggle for the freedom of my people, I have known very few quiet days in the last few years. I have been imprisoned in Alabama and Georgia jails twelve times. My home has been bombed twice.

A day seldom passes that my family and I are not the recipients of threats of death. I have been the victim of a near fatal stabbing. So in a real sense I have been battered by the storms of persecution.” As we know, he would later be the target of an assassin’s bullet in 1968. Living his life on a razor’s edge not knowing what the next moment would bring, Dr. King knew fear and doubt at times. In one of those moments he once prayed: “’Lord, I must confess that I’m weak now. I’m faltering. I’m losing my courage.’ And it seemed at that moment that I could hear

an inner voice saying to me, ‘Martin Luther, stand up for righteousness. Stand up for justice. Stand up for truth.

And lo, I will be with you, even until the end of the world.’ I hear the voice of Jesus saying still to fight on. He promised never to leave me, never to leave me alone.”

Drawing fresh inspiration from this Sunday’s Gospel, may each of us be willing, like Dr. King, to pay the costly price of discipleship as we bear witness to the Lord in our everyday lives, strengthened by our faith in Jesus’ real identity as God’s only Son and His Father’s providential care for each of us.

God bless and keep you always,

Fr. Gregory

June 12, 2020

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