I know that we have all had the experience of having some plan made up, but then it doesn’t turn out the way we expected it to happen. And certainly that can happen with more ordinary situations like your weekend plans getting changed, or a last minute cancellation, which in itself is still frustrating but nothing that we can’t get over and move on with.
But I’m sure many of us have also had the experience when that unexpected change in our plan was something more substantial, and more painful to deal with when it doesn’t go according to plan. It might’ve been something with our professional life – something you worked so hard for and planned for a very long time, but then all of sudden, that plan doesn’t end up happening in the way we expected it to happen. Or something involving our personal lives and a particular relationship that we’ve been involved in for some time but doesn’t result in the way that we thought.
And with any of those experiences, when those plans don’t pan out as we expected, and life takes a drastic turn in another direction, and all those feelings of frustration and fear set in, what do we do? Do we choose to live in fear or choose to live in faith?
In our Gospel today, we hear those very consoling words from Jesus, “Do not be afraid.” It’s tempting to think that of course for Jesus it’s easy for him to say that. He’s God, what does He have to be afraid of, what does He know of this experience I’m going through. He knows exactly what we’re going through.
Becoming fully man, Jesus knows everything we experience except sin. He knows what fear is. He knows what it’s like to experience pain and death. He knows what we can go through because He himself has experienced it all: having his heart broken, betrayed by his closest friends, knowing what it’s like to be lonely, disliked and unappreciated. And so, he can confidently say to us, “Do not be afraid.”
In fact, he says those words 16 times throughout the Gospels, and he says it so often because he knows that we all need to hear it over and over again, otherwise it’s so easy to give in to our fear and everything else that comes along with it – worry and anxiety, placing our hope in the wrong things, or trusting in the wrong people.
Jeremiah the prophet, in the First Reading from today at Mass, certainly knew the temptation to give in to his fears and turn away from God. As he said in the reading, "I hear the whisperings of many: 'Terror on every side! Denounce! let us denounce him!' All those who were my friends are on the watch for any misstep of mine.” Jeremiah was called to preach a message of conversion to his own people, but all he got in return were threats and insults from the people to get him to stop preaching that message. He could’ve easily said to God that this is too much and give up on the life that he was called to, but he continued to place his trust in God. “But the Lord is with me, like a mighty champion,” as he said in the reading.
Likewise, in the Gospel, the reason Jesus said those words to not be afraid to his disciples was to prepare them for the persecutions they would experience for witnessing their faith in Jesus. The disciples could easily have thought the same thing like Jeremiah. “This is too much. My life was so much easier before. God, I don’t know if I can do this.”
With these readings, God wants us to look at our fears. Maybe it’s the fear that results from a family situation, or our financial condition, fear of all the violence in our world, or the fears comes from not having a sense of meaning or worthiness in life. Whatever fear that might be in our lives, do we choose to live in that fear or do we live in faith in God?
Choosing to live in that fear ultimately comes from a lack of trust and a lack of faith in God. We all know that it’s a challenge today to remember these words of Jesus to not be afraid when there are so many other persuasive words in our society, wanting us to give in to those fears and placing our hope in the wrong things. Those words telling you to do whatever you want to do – if it feels right, do it. Or those words telling you that we’re out of date, the Church is so far behind the times, there’s no need for you to be a part of it. Why put up with so much suffering?
Don’t listen to those words. Don’t allow the words of others be more important than the word of God. Listen to Jesus. Don’t be afraid. Don’t be afraid to place your full faith in God even while dealing with trials and difficulties in your life. Trust in the love that God has for you and to trust that all things work out for the good for those who love God, as St. Paul reminds us.
Jesus never promised that he would make our lives easy and comfortable without any hardships or struggle. In fact, he knows that there are crosses that we have to carry, sufferings that we have to endure, but as we know from Jesus’ own suffering, death and resurrection, we don’t live just for this life, but we believe in life eternal with God in Heaven. That’s what we trust, and why there’s no reason to live in fear but to live in faith.
Father Adam Park grew up in the Washington, DC area. He discovered his vocation to the priesthood while on retreat during his senior year in high school. Being ordained a priest for the Archdiocese of Washington, he has served in different assignments throughout the archdiocese.