Twelfth Sunday of Ordinary Time, Cycle A: by Fr. Claude Perera
Jeremiah surrounded by enemies expresses confidence in the Lord.
God hears the pleas of the distressed.
Sin and death came into the world through one man; salvation also came through one man.
God cares for his chosen ones.
Background on the Gospel Reading
The key to read today’s gospel is the context of the community to which Matthew wrote. His audience was a Jewish-Christian community. The chapter 12 of Matthew’s Gospel from where today’s reading was taken, began with the call of the Twelve followed by their being missioned (Mt 12:1-15). What follows immediately is Mt 12:16-25 where Jesus alludes to the situation of persecution His disciples will have to face. With these words in today’s gospel, Jesus encourages them in those troubled times. Matthew’s community has already faced such persecution and continues to do so in the present and future. So, Jesus’ instructions to the Twelve becomes something existentially real to the Matthean community.
What were the challenges the twelve were to face? The challenges are contained in the three exhortations of Jesus, “Do not fear” which is the dominant and recurrent message in today’s gospel. According to the first exhortation, they should not fear because everything now covered up will be uncovered, and everything now hidden made clear. What Jesus says in the dark, will be told in the daylight; present whispers, will be proclaimed from the housetops (vv. 26-27).
The covered will be uncovered, and secrets laid bare by the revelatory power of the gospel, of which the disciples are bearers by means of their mission. Their utter simplicity, helplessness, vulnerability, and dependence on God come from the tremendous power of the gospel. That power of the gospel is opposed to world’s claims for power. That makes the disciples fear no one and say and do things with irresistible audacity and boldness. The disciples are harbingers of truth. No one can challenge the truth. It cannot be suppressed. It must come to light sooner or later. Agents of falsehood fear the truth and resist it. They will oppose the truth and its allies. Obviously, that will bring about suffering and even death to bearers of truth. But they are not to fear.
Why should they not fear? The answer is found in the second exhortation. “Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul; fear him rather who can destroy both body and soul in hell.” Worse form of fear is that of death. Power structures that resist and hide the truth are already dead in spirit. They fear death because they know the torments of hell that awaits them. But the righteous and truthful ones fear no physical death. Physical violence or martyrdom will motivate many more to offer their lives for the truth. But what everybody must fear is the spiritual death caused by living unrighteous, untruthful, and immoral lives.
The third exhortation is in v. 31; “So there is no need to be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.” A roasted sparrow is one mouthful. Sparrows have little monetary worth for humans. Yet, they have worth for God because they are his creatures whom he feeds and cares. Then, how much will God care for his sons and daughters who are created in His own image and likeness? Their worth is much more than many sparrows. For their souls are in His hands. He is in full control of every situation of man and beast alike. Even if the righteous are killed, God’s care for them never ceases. His angels will welcome them into tents of glorious eternity.
At the end of the today’s gospel reading, Jesus said, “If anyone declares himself for me in the presence of human beings, I will declare myself for him in the presence of my Father in heaven. (v. 32). The word ‘declares’ (homologe¯ in Greek) needs a relevant comment. According to Strong’s concordance, it means to say the same thing as another, i. e. to agree with, give assent willfully, to concede; i. e. a. not to refuse, to promise, not to deny, to declare, to confess i. e. to admit or declare oneself guilty of what one is accused of. According to Douglas Jacoby “… it is a public stand taken, a conviction, a lifestyle which will follow the fundamental conviction. It is a public commitment. We are not secret Christians. Yes, discretion may require us at times to be prudent, but we are different from other members of society, and our Christian identity cannot be hidden. It insists on its being made known!” Wasn’t this the gutty nature of early Christians who faced martyrdom? This is Jesus’ exhortation and encouragement to would-be martyrs. Such a person cannot disown Jesus. Peter denied him during the trial of Jesus. A true disciple of Jesus will never deny him even at the coat of his life.