The mission of mercy on which Jesus sent His apostles, then as now, both tests and develops the faith of His followers (Matthew 10:26-33). We need to meditate on the cost of discipleship and the risk inherent in living the Gospel in the midst of the world.
A little flock
The company Jesus sent out to all nations was and is only a little flock; in the actual alignment of power and resources easily dwarfed by the surrounding world and, in terms of truly committed members, a tiny band. Discrimination, rejection and violent repression have always been the lot from the very beginning of those who carry the name of Jesus and proclaim His good news of salvation. Even now, two millennia later, Christians are still confronted by a world that in places and times is outright murderous. Bishops, priests, church workers and believers have been abused and physically attacked also in countries with the majority of people baptized.
The good news of salvation does not appear “good” for many who have different agenda. It radically questions the world that would forget or pretend there is no God. It challenges any kind of life built upon values contrary to God’s law. It is inevitable that confrontation would take place. When Jesus sent his disciples into the world to share in His mission, he graphically referred to them as “sheep among wolves” (Matthew 10:16). They are programmed to be at odds with the status quo, as they follow the radical ethics that Jesus Himself lived and died for. To really live according to the gospel is professedly to be a counterculture.
Do not be afraid
But Jesus does not send His followers out just on their own and defenseless. In the gospel text, we have a triple injunction for the disciples not to be afraid. The first assurance that they will not just be suppressed is because “Nothing is concealed that will not be revealed, nor secret that will not be known.” What is here meant is that the teaching of Jesus, though now hidden and known only to a few, would be spread everywhere. It cannot be stifled and would be proclaimed from the housetops. “Take courage, I have conquered the world” (John 16:33). The second injunction against fear concerns the bloody persecution against the faithful. Physical violence indicates the gospel is truly being delivered to a world that needs it but still unwilling. When Christianity no longer rocks the boat but has become lukewarm and conformed to the world, evidently there would be no more violent reactions. But murderers can harm only the body, not the soul, not man’s eternal destiny. To be feared is being lost in Gehenna.
The third injunction of Jesus to His followers against fear is the love of God as a Father, who deeply cares for them. The comparison with sparrows is poignant, when its literal meaning is considered. “Not a single sparrow lights upon (lumalapag) the ground without your Father’s consent”—not “falling” but “alighting” to pick up a grain. God’s constant and protective love for His precious ones is powerfully pictured in this care with which the ordinary movements of a common bird are accompanied by the Creator. For us, this is dramatized by the observation that every hair of one’s head is accounted for to God. Real trust in the Father liberates the disciples from the crippling grip of fear and empowers them to serve wholeheartedly the cause of the Gospel.
Alálaong bagá, to be on mission for Jesus Christ is to bear witness to Him. It includes questioning things and being a challenge to others. But one need not be afraid, if one is faithful to the Lord. To acknowledge Him before others, even willingly to die for Him, if necessary, is to be guaranteed that Jesus is our mediator before the judgment seat of God. At that last moment, we shall hear from Him for the last time, “Do not be afraid!”
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