Dear friends. There is a good deal of fear in our troubled world today. After coronavirus there are fears for elderly and vulnerable people, fears for the economy, of Brexit, fears for our young people, fears for our planet and fears for the future.
In the Gospel today, Jesus addresses directly the fears of his disciples and prepares them for the challenges that lay ahead. He says to them ‘Do not be afraid’ no less than three times in a short Gospel text. Let’s consider carefully exactly what fears Jesus addresses.
First he asks them not to fear witnessing to the truth. To witness to the truth is to witness to Jesus himself for he is ‘the way, the truth and the life’ (John 14:1-6). He tells them that the truth will be their strength and will win through in the end. Although they will suffer for it and many of them will die for it, the truth cannot be killed with them and will triumph like a light in the darkness after they are gone. Every lie will be exposed and everything hidden made clear. Therefore, the person who lives by the truth has nothing to fear. On the other hand, the liar and fraud lives in fear of the truth and being found out.
Jesus also asks them not to fear those who can end their lives through violence. This was a big ask given the threats to their lives at the time. Rather he says, ‘may your greatest fear not be dying but losing your soul’. We worry about so many things and fear many things but Jesus is asking us to fear God first and if we do, we will fear nothing or no one. St Thomas Aquinas once prayed ‘May I not desire to please or fear to displease anyone but you’. What do we desire most? What do we fear most? In many ways the rest of our lives unfold according to how we answer these questions. We need to ask them of ourselves and often.
The final fear Jesus addresses is that of thinking we don’t matter. He talks about the Father’s love for sparrows and makes the point that the Father cares for us a hundred times more. How widespread is the fear that we don’t matter? Far greater than we care to admit. We are always trying to make sure we matter by what we say and the influence we have. But here Jesus takes us to the heart of it. We matter because of who we are – his beloved sons and daughters. When we forget this, fear and doubt begin to replace courage and confidence.