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 Eternal Son of God, the Eternal Word through whom the Father has made all things. Now man, says Scripture, was created by God in His own image, and so Jesus, the eternal, creative image of the Father, is always totally aware of what is in the heart of every other image. In today’s Gospel, Jesus tells us what he knows is often in our heart – fear; and He encourages us not to live in fear and tells us why we should no longer live in fear. He says we should never live in fear because it has pleased the Father to give to us the very Kingdom of God, and for that reason we should no longer live in fear in this world.
Let us, then, reflect prayerfully on these words of Jesus and see if we really take them serious enough to actually live by them. We much ask ourselves what is it that we tend to fear in this life? What specifically is the fear that Jesus is speaking about when he tells us not to live in fear?
No men in general fear many things. They fear losing their earthly possessions when times are bad. They fear war and violence that often threaten. They fear losing their health when they are seriously ill. They fear losing those they love when they are in danger.
But, above all, every man fears death, the end of his mortal life in this world, at least when his life is threatened in some way. In fact, all his other fears are connected in one way or another with this primal fear of the human person. Knowing this, the Prince of this world tries hard to distract us from this fear by encouraging us to keep ourselves so busy, so occupied with work, play, planning, or whatever so distracts us from serious reflection on life that we have little or no time to think about things like death.
Modern secularized man cooperates with his ancient foe and runs as fast as he can away from the very thought of death, and yet in the end he cannot fully escape its specter, and so he lives in fear, even if that fear is kept just below the surface of his consciousness in his daily life. Secularized, non-religious man cannot totally escape the fear of death simply because man was created for life and naturally loves the good of life. And lacking faith, the worldly man does not know what, if anything, lies beyond death, and the fear of nothingness is the worst fear of all.
That is the human situation in this world when faith is lacking. Man is a creature in anguish sooner or later because by nature he deeply loves life and yet faces the inevitability of death, and without faith he doesn’t know whether death is absolutely the last word, nothingness, or if not he rightly fears 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 despairing shadows, a less real world than the present one, a world where happiness has no real place. Better a live dog than a dead man, a man surviving at best only as an unhappy shadow of a man. It is no different today for the vast populations of the faithless western nations; people live in fear, and the deepest reason is that they no longer believe in God, in God who is the Father Who has given them the Kingdom.
But what then is this Kingdom Jesus is referring to, the possession of which banishes all fear in man? His is the Kingdom where death no longer threatens Life, where Life and happiness is absolutely triumphant over death and sorrow forever. It is the Kingdom of the God Who is Life. Now, if a person believes, truly believes, that God’s Kingdom, Heaven, has literally been given to us, that is, given to us in Christ, how can such a person possibly live in fear who lives by that faith?
Until the Apostles believed this truth, they too lived in fear. Indeed, we see them positively terrified of death during the Passion, and even huddled in fear in the upper room after Jesus’ death. It was only after the resurrection of Jesus, only after He had conquered death and appeared to them alive again 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. After His resurrection, they will actually spurn death; they will no longer worry about being imprisoned, tortured or put to death. Indeed, death now becomes in their eyes the true passageway to the Final Kingdom in Heaven, the Kingdom that they did not earn but were simply given by the unfathomable generosity of the Father. Jesus said “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 way of life and 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, because we believe in the Kingdom as our true home, then we will not fear being generous to others. So the Apostles are told in today’s Gospel 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 that perhaps there will not be enough left for their own life in this world. Fearful men 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 far beyond all earthly 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 and to love the Lord intensely, 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.
Of course, if one is not ready to meet the Lord when he comes for whatever reason, he has a reason to fear death and judgement. If a Christian lives an immoral life and does not repent, he should fear death. If a Christian gives scandal to the littler ones by his actions or words, he should indeed fear those words of Jesus about the horrible punishment for those who do such things. How frightening to see Catholics voting for evils like abortion or even cooperating in evils like same sex marriage, such as performing such a civil marriage. Catholic slave owners had a good reason to dear death and judgement, but slavery is not the only evil that Catholics darken their souls by supporting or engaging in such things personally. Living faith in the Kingdom is not possible when cooperating with the grave evils of this world
So how many people in today’s world, how many Christians actually possess a living faith, how many truly live their daily life based upon the firm belief in something beyond this world that it has truly pleased the Father to give us, His Kingdom of Life. 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 or in subordination to this world’s false values? And if one is truly living this faith in the Kingdom, how can one live in terror that he might have some terminal disease; or live in fear that one’s future nest-egg might run out, or not be enough to sustain one’s life style; or live in fear that the economy may collapse and we will end up destitute? And what can we do about such things anyway? If we are not in God’s hands, then we are helpless and thus 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 have whatever we truly need. No, rather this is Jesus’ message to us; believe Me and you will not live in fear, for you will live in the light of the most astounding truth and promise of all, that not only does the Father know and provide for our earthly needs, but it has even pleased the Father, O little flock, to give to us the Kingdom itself.