19th Sunday of Ordinary Time
Do not live in fear little flock – it has pleased the Father to give you the Kingdom.
In the third chapter of St. John’s Gospel, The evangelist tells us that Jesus never had to ask what was in the human heart, for he always understood human nature. (John2:25) After all, Jesus is truly the Verbum Dei, the Eternal Word through whom the Father has made all things. Man was created in His divine image, and so Jesus is always aware of what is in the heart of man. In today’s Gospel, he tells us what is often in our heart – fear; and He admonishes us not to live in fear, and tells us why we should never live in fear. For, He says, it has pleased the Father to
give us the kingdom, and for that reason we ought never to live in fear in this world.
Let us reflect prayerfully on these words of Jesus, and see if we really take them serious enough to actually live by them. What is it that we fear most in this life? What specifically is this fear that Jesus is speaking about when he tells us not to live in fear?
Man fears so many things. He fears losing his possessions; he fears war and violence; he fears losing his health, he fears losing those he loves. But above all, man fears death, the end of his mortal life in this world. All the other fears in one way or another are connected with this primal fear of the human person. The Prince of this world tries its best to distract us from this fear by an almost frenzied attempt to keep us so busy, so occupied with work, play, planning, whatever, that we have no time to think about things like death. Modern secular man runs as fast as he can away from the very thought of death, but in the end he cannot escape, and so he lives in fear, even if that fear is kept just below the surface of his consciousness in his daily life. Secular man fears death because man naturally loves the good of life and, lacking in faith, the worldly man does not know what, if anything, lies beyond death.
That is the human situation in this world when faith is lacking. Man is a creature in anguish because he loves life and yet faces the inevitability of death, and without faith he doesn’t know whether death is absolutely the last word, or if it is not what lies beyond death. Classical western literature is filled with this anguish of man, the fear of death, the fear of the unknown beyond death. Even where there was some sense of life after death in the Greco-Roman world, it remained a world of shadows, a less real world than the present one, a world where happiness had no place or was a huge question mark. It is no different today for the populace of the faithless western nations; people live in fear, and the deepest reason is that they no longer believe that the Father has given them the Kingdom. ***
The Kingdom Jesus refers to, of course, is the Kingdom where death no longer threatens Life, where Life is absolutely triumphant over death forever. It is the Kingdom of God who is Life. If a man believes, really believes, that God’s Kingdom, Heaven, has literally been given to him, given to us in Christ, how can this man possibly live in fear? Until the Apostles believed this truth, they too lived in fear. Indeed, we see them positively terrified of death during the Passion, and huddled in the upper room after Jesus’ death. It was only after the resurrection of Jesus, only after He conquers death and comes to them that they finally come to believe that the Kingdom is theirs for the asking, or rather, only for their believing in Christ and His promises. Then they will actually spurn death; they will no longer worry about being imprisoned, tortured or put to death. Indeed death now becomes the passageway to the Kingdom, the Kingdom that they did not earn, but were simply given by the unfathomable generosity of the Father, “your Father is pleased to give you the kingdom.”
When a person truly believes this revelation, that the Father has given us the Kingdom, that very act of faith in Christ and the Trinity becomes his acceptance of this gift. But for that act of faith to be authentic, it has to become incarnate in our existence, just as “the gift of the Kingdom” became Incarnate, became flesh and dwelt among us. Our faith, our acceptance of the gift of Eternal Life, will manifest itself above all by our no longer living in fear.
Jesus Himself gives many practical examples of this new Life without fear. If we no longer live in fear, then we will not fear being generous to others – so the Apostles are told to sell what they have and give to the poor. Those who live in fear cannot be truly generous to the poor, because they fear there will not be enough left for their own life in this world. Fearful Christians do not trust the Father’s providence and generosity. The Apostles, unlike the rich young man who declined Jesus’ invitation to sell everything and then follow him, did in fact leave everything behind, and they gained a treasure that is beyond all value. What they gained cannot be compared to any earthly good including life itself. They gained the company of the Lord in this world and in the world to come. No longer living in fear, they were no longer slaves to the things of this world. They were truly what God had created them to be, free men in love with God.
Likewise, the man who no longer lives in fear, lives for the Lord, and is always prepared to meet Him when he comes to ask an account of our service. Indeed the truly free man of faith longs for the Lord to come and take him into the Heavenly Kingdom, so he can be free in the deepest sense, like St. Ignatius of Antioch on his way to death. For the believer, what matters the most in this world is simply to serve the Lord well, to be with the Lord, to live in such a way that it matters not when He comes to take one home, whether it be sooner or later.
How many people, how many Christians live by such faith in today’s world, live their daily life based upon the firm belief in something unseen but believed, that it has truly pleased the Father to give us the Kingdom. If God has been pleased to give us Eternal Life, to give us a share forever in the life and happiness, not of a creature, but of the Creator, how can we possibly live in fear in this world? How can we live in terror that we might have some terminal disease; or in fear that our future nest-egg might run out, or not be enough to sustain our life style; or in fear that the economy may collapse and we will be destitute? What can we do about such things anyway? If we are not in God’s hands, we are helpless and hopeless to be sure. But if we really believe what we profess every Sunday of the year in our Creed, then how can we live like those who have no faith?
That is what our Lord is warning us about in the Gospel, that we are not to live like unbelievers, always worried about what we shall have to wear or to eat, or how long we will live, or be healthy, or whatever we need. No, rather this is his message to us, believe and you will not live in fear, for you will live in the light of the most astounding truth of all, that not only does the Father know and provide for your earthly needs, but it has even pleased the Father, little flock, to give to you the Kingdom itself.