“Do not be afraid!” Some of the most comforting words we can hear when they come from someone who can protect us. Words that a parent might say and that bring comfort to a child during scary times like a storm. They are the most commonly heard words in the bible. “Have no fear. Do not be afraid. Fear no one.” God is on my side is the common thought. With God on my side, I have nothing to fear. But as Jesus says these words to the apostles – and to us – they are in reality a call to arms. He is actually telling us not to be afraid to be on God’s side. There is no assurance that we will be protected from harm or sheltered from ridicule. Quite the opposite. Just before this reading, Jesus warns the apostles, “I am sending you like sheep before the wolves.” He knows that persecution will come to those who defend Christianity and he wants them to know that by standing with and for God, eternal salvation will be theirs.
Jeremiah experienced this first hand. One of my favorite quotes in the bible comes in Jeremiah just before our first reading. “You duped me O Lord, and I let myself be duped!…all the day I am the object of laughter; everyone mocks me….I say to myself, I will not mention him. I will speak in his name no more. But then it becomes like fire burning in my heart.” Jesus knows that persecution is to come to those who speak in his name. He is telling us – do not be afraid of the persecution, the ridicule, the insults and the scorn. Accept it! Embrace it! The doors have been flung open – What was concealed must be revealed, what was secret must be made known, what was said in darkness must be spoken in the light, what was whispered must be shouted. It is our responsibility – it is our call to proclaim Christ in our words and our actions, to defend the faith and to proclaim it from the rooftops. And when we do, the persecution will come – but we take comfort knowing that he walks with us in our suffering and is united to us every step of the way just as we are united to his suffering on the cross for us. And as St. Paul tells us in the second reading – the gracious gift which God offers us – this gift of eternal salvation is radiant with hope! It is far greater than the transgressions brought on by sin. If we deny Christ by what we do, and what we fail to do, we walk into the depths of sin and we walk away from him. Failure to stand up for Christ will result in Christ denying us. In other words, as Catholics and Christians, we have a responsibility to stand up for and defend the faith and teachings of the church in the face of adversity and persecution. We cannot sit by quietly. Do so at your own peril.
As Vincentians, we need to be ardent defenders of the faith. We need to embrace in a particular way the teachings of the church on social justice and poverty. We also need to defend those in poverty against prejudice, judgments, and inequitable social structures. That means we also need to first understand and recognize both the teachings and the issues around poverty. At times, we can find ourselves frustrated tired and seemingly without answers. We may want to throw our hands up and say “You duped me O Lord!” Let us stand strong for Christ as he stood for us. Like Abraham, Jeremiah, Job, Moses and so many others; we need to trust in God’s goodness and feed the fire of his love in our hearts! Do we know the teachings of the Church that we can defend them? Do we step forward when we hear others make judgements or show prejudice about a class of people and / or individuals? Have we been able to set our own prejudices to the side?
God, give me the persistence and desire to ever more deeply understand and know your will for our lives and your teachings on social justice. Help me especially to walk in the pathway of Jesus as I deal with the issues of poverty. Give me the courage to remain faithful to your will in the face of adversity and prejudice. Allow me to advocate with zeal for those who are in need. I pray all of this in your Son’s name. Amen