In the beginning

Column: Comfortable Catholics live a watered-down faith

by Father Mike Stubbs


Summer is a time for adventure. Vacation trips often lead families to explore new parts of the world.

The mountains and the ocean beckon. Outdoor activities can increase the excitement. Even the blockbuster movies that appear during the summer seek to
bring us adventure, which we experience vicariously.

But adventure often includes the possibility of danger. For example, swimming in the ocean carries with it a certain amount of risk: of drowning, being stung by jellyfish, or attacked by sharks. On one hand, that only adds to the thrill. On the other hand, danger can bring on fear.

Sunday’s Gospel reading, Mt 10:26- 33, opens with an instruction to the 12 apostles: “Fear no one.” That bold directive may appeal to our intrepid love of courage, but it is somewhat misleading. First of all, our translation omits the direct object clearly stated in the Greek text. A more literal translation would read “Do not fear them.” The “them” refers to those mentioned earlier in the chapter who will persecute the followers of Jesus, 10:16-23. The absolute sense of “Fear no one” overlooks that reference.

Secondly, an absolute “Fear no one” leads us into an apparent contradiction later on in the passage. The second half of verse 28 orders: “Be afraid of the one who can destroy both soul and body in Gehenna.” In other words, there is a place, after all, for legitimate fear in the heart of the Christian. It is fear of God.

On the surface, Matthew’s warning about persecution is directed to the 12 apostles. At the same time, they do not appear to be in any immediate danger. Those persecutions will happen during the next generation of Christians, when the Gospel itself was written. The Gospel passage anticipates this future time, when Jesus tells the apostles, “What I say to you in the darkness, speak in the light; what you hear whispered, proclaim on the housetops.”

Once again, the Gospel goes beyond providing a narrative of Jesus’ life, to reflect the life and concerns of the community in which it was composed. In that way, the words of Jesus are not restricted to their immediate context, but are applied to a new time and place. The words of Jesus are living, pertinent for Christians of every age and locality. The crucified and risen Lord speaks to us all.

Consequently, those words have meaning for us as well. They challenge us to examine the quality of our witness concerning Jesus Christ. They invite us to look at how well we are continuing in the mission of the apostles. We may not undergo persecution as such, but still face opposition because of our faith.

If we never feel a certain uneasiness because of the conflict between our faith and the values of this world, then we most likely have watered down that faith. On some points, there is a fundamental contradiction between the two. If we gloss over that contradiction, we fail in our mission.

And according to Matthew’s Gospel, that is something that we definitely should fear.

About the author

Fr. Mike Stubbs

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