Be Not Afraid

     In today’s gospel, Jesus tells the apostles:  “Fear no one!”  “Do not be afraid of those who can kill the body but cannot kill the soul.”  Many probably think that this charge to have courage under persecution has little to do with us.  We live ordinary lives distant from the situations that could result in imprisonment, torture, or martyrdom.  Be careful!  For people of faith, there is no such thing as an “ordinary life.”  We are called to an extraordinary existence---a counter-cultural lifestyle that demands a willingness to oppose injustice wherever we encounter it and pay whatever price resistance demands.

     The reality is that we can all recall people who have courageously spoken out for justice while ignoring what their decisions might cost them.  Three months ago, we celebrated the 40th anniversary of the death of Saint Oscar Romero, the Archbishop of San Salvador, who spoke out against his government and was assassinated. On the night before he was murdered he made a personal appeal to the solders responsible for the escalating violence saying:  “I beseech you, I beg you, I command you!  In the name of God, cease the repression.”    

     More recently, Notre Dame Sister Dorothy Stang was murdered as she walked along a rural road in Brazil’s Amazon region.  She had received death threats for years, because of her stand on land reform, peasants’ rights, and environmental issues asking the government for protection from those who wanted to keep her quiet.  As she confronted armed men on the road, she began reading her Bible.  The gunmen listened for a moment and then killed her.

     People like Oscar Romero and Dorothy Stang practiced what theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer called “costly grace.”  Most of us regular churchgoers would not be willing to pay such a price.  Usually when a crisis occurs, we tend to play it safe practicing what Bonhoeffer called, “cheap grace.”  Cheap grace means we keep quiet, fearful that our interference will cost us more than we are willing to pay.  Instead of imitating Jesus, who spoke boldly against evil, we quickly manufacture reasons for not responding.  The reasons can be compelling, but the end result is that justice is not voiced and injustice continues unchecked.  After the crisis has passed, we continue to attend church, receive the Sacraments, and pray for guidance.  Bonhoeffer would call that lifestyle, “Christianity without Christ.”

     As followers of Jesus, we must be voices “crying in the wilderness,” voices that cannot be silenced, because they come from the very heart of God, the voice that Jeremiah called: “a fire burning in the heart.”  He was forced to cry out:  “I grow weary holding it back!  I cannot.”  Confronted by evil, we too must cry out regardless of the cost.  Jesus reminds us today, “Fear no One.” “Do not be afraid.”  Easier said than done. Facing evil is never easy but neither is being a disciple.  So we choose!

~ Deacon Wilson Shierk