Twelfth Sunday in Ordinary Time (June 25, 2017)

Market researchers studied three thousand persons, asking: “ What are you most afraid of? You can guess most of the responses: heights, financial insecurity, snakes, dying. The big surprise is that the #1 fear was speaking in front of a group. Today’s first and third readings deal with that fear of speaking before groups.

Jeremiah was a reluctant prophet who feared shame and death. Jeremiah tells us what his fear felt like: “terror from every side.” His faith in God pushed him through that fear. He “did the right thing;” he spoke out for God in spite of his fear.

In our Gospel, Jesus counsels his disciples as they set out on their missionary journey to speak to their fellow Jews. They are not to fear; they are to proclaim the good news -- even from the housetops.

We acknowledge and step up for our friends when they are unjustly accused or scoffed at . . . Or we are not much of a friend. But, before we actually do that, we are fearful of being rejected and shunned. Pushing through those fears, we acknowledge and step up for our friends. That is a part of the price of friendship.

There are times when our god is not spoken well of. Jesus said at the Last Supper, “I no longer call you servants; I call you friends.” He calls us friends. Do we reciprocate? Do we step up for our Lord, as a friend when god is scoffed at? Are we fearful that we will be thought of as “different” -- labeled a “religious fanatic,” a “Jesus freak,” a “wacko”? Do we play it cool, do we become cowardly and give in to the temptation with an eyes-lowered-“yeah.” That would be unfaithful to our friend, Jesus. We need to choose fidelity as our “default.”

The Gospel concluded with strong words from Jesus: “Everyone who acknowledges me before others I will acknowledge before my heavenly father. But whoever denies me before others, I will deny before my heavenly father.”

Unlike Jeremiah whom history indicates was later murdered in Egypt, unlike Jesus himself who “did the right thing” then suffered rejection, torture, and the cross, unlike ten of the apostles, who suffered death, as martyrs for their faith, we will most surely never come near to being physically tortured or killed for standing up for our Lord. Jesus never said that our worldly reputation would not suffer. Being labeled may be “the” cost of discipleship for us.

In the Gospel Jesus invites us to entertain two fears: the fear of the one who can destroy body and soul together and the fear of developing a “hardened heart.” In my experience, a hardened heart is often observable. A hardened heart is visible in one who does not have “soft eyes.” In one-on-one conversations, where the appropriate direction for someone is very clear, he hardens his eyes, inhales, raises his head slightly and looks away, avoiding eye contact. If we choose god and “harden not our hearts,” embrace his words and then enflesh his love, we will then have no one and nothing to fear in the big picture.

Let’s recall the prayer of Thomas Merton, the Trappist priest, famous spiritual author, peace activist who died under suspicious circumstances while in the Far East:

“I do not see the road ahead of me.
I cannot know for certain where it will end...
I know that you will lead me by the right road,
though I may know nothing about it.

therefore I trust you always;
I will not fear for you are with me;
and you never leave me to face my perils alone.”

If we do not look at our weak selves, but toward our god we will have the courage to face our fears. We will be able to show the world what it means to live as fearless disciples of Jesus the Christ when the occasion calls for it.