Fear can influence us to do things we might not do, ordinarily.
In Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus is sending out his apostles, telling them to proclaim “The kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matthew 10:7). He tells them what to do and what not to do, but his words soon turn to a description of the persecutions the apostles, and what the disciples here and now, will face: “You will be hated by all because of my name, but whoever endures to the end will be saved.”
Jesus gives us a remedy for the fear which our persecution can cause. He does not want us to give up, turning away from the mission he has given us, or going so far as to commit a grave sin by which we reject God altogether.
He tells us to put our mission, and the persecution it will cause us, into perspective: “Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul; rather, be afraid of those who can destroy both soul and body in Gehenna.”
He is saying, you are being persecuted for following me; for doing what I have asked you to do. They can only harm your body, perhaps even take your life, but don’t let them take your soul. Do not fear their persecution to the point where you sin against me by willingly denying me before them. For “whoever denies me before others, I will deny before my heavenly Father.”
If I asked you, “What is the opposite of love?” you would likely reply, “hate.” And that is true, but also know the root of hatred is fear — fear from having been harmed or the future possibility of being harmed. Fear lies at the root of our desire not to love, to lash out in word and/or deed against those whom we perceive have wronged us. The temptation to retaliate, to willingly return evil for evil, can be very appealing but vengeance brings with it a host of sins. Jesus
Returning evil in response to evil will not heal our hurts.
Jesus is asking us to bear these hardships and forgive those whom we perceive have hurt us, although many times it is only our inflated pride that is offended. Jesus is asking us to conquer evil with good, with love in our actions and our prayers.
Keep foremost in your mind the mission Jesus has given each of his followers, the persecution it will cause us, and put it all into perspective — do not be afraid.
Paul R. Bachi is a deacon at St. Mark Catholic Church in Eddyville. His opinions are his own and not necessarily those of this newspaper.