In the Hebrew Scriptures (Old Testament), and particularly in the Book of Exodus, there is a strong emphasis on “remembering.” Moses, speaking the words of God, would often say: Remember the Lord brought you out of slavery and provided you with manna and water as you journeyed through the desert. Remember to keep the Sabbath holy. Remember that you were slaves at one time so never mistreat anyone under you.
Remembering is so important in faith. Jesus said, “Do this in remembrance of me.” That is why you are here today and every Sunday. It reminds me of an Irish expression, a play on words, that goes like this:
Always remember to forget the things that made you sad, but never forget to remember to the things that made you glad.
Always remember to forget the friends who proved untrue, but never forget to remember the friends who stuck by you.
Remembering played a big role in the prophet Jeremiah’s life. He lived some 600 years before the birth of Jesus and spent the last 40 years of his life prophesying in God’s name. He really did not want to be a prophet of God claiming that he was too young and that he lacked the ability to speak. Real prophets, down to this day, are always the last to say, “Pick me, God.” Real prophets always feel inadequate and believe that someone else, anyone else, would be better suited for the job. But, God replied that Jeremiah was being called not because of his age or his ability to speak but because God had chosen him. God told Jeremiah that He had known him while he was still in his mother’s womb and, it was then and there, that he set Jeremiah’s life apart to be a prophet to the nations.
God even forbade Jeremiah to marry so he could focus on the singular task of preaching God’s word. For 40 years that is exactly what Jeremiah did; he preached God’s word. He warned the people of Judah to turn once more to God. And, for 40 years, people ignored Jeremiah. So, God allowed the Babylonians to invade Judah, take over their country, sack the capital city of Jerusalem, destroy the Temple, and deport the people to Babylon.
Have you ever felt passionate about something only to have no one share in your passion? Or perhaps, you had a strong conviction about something, but no one shared in that conviction. This is what Fr. Ron Rolheiser calls moral loneliness, the worst kind of loneliness; to have a conviction about something and dedicate all your resources in the direction of that conviction while everyone else is indifferent or maybe even against you. Jeremiah must have asked himself countless times during those 40 years of preaching, “I gave up the chance to marry, to have a family, for what?”
As we listened to the first reading today, we can hear the discouragement in Jeremiah’s voice: I hear many whispering: “Terror is all around! Denounce him! Let us denounce him! Even my close friends are just waiting for me to stumble so they can take revenge on me.” That is the first part of the reading. However, in the very next line we see a shift from discouragement to trust, when Jeremiah says, “But the Lord is with me like a dread warrior; therefore, it won’t be me who stumbles and falls but my persecutors…” For a brief moment Jeremiah forgot the faithfulness of God, but then he remembered. And good for him in remembering for that is what allowed him to move forward. If at least a small group does remember Jesus–by doing the thing he asked us to do in his memory, Eucharist–then Church continues and thrives. But if one generation does not pass on its tradition, in the form of memory, that tradition dies. That is why you are here each Sunday…to pass on the living tradition of eating the Body of Christ, drinking his blood, and remembering the Christ story.
Similarly, in today’s gospel, just prior to Jesus sending the 12 apostles out on mission he says three times, “Do not be afraid.” He has to say it three times because we are so prone to forgetfulness and easily slip into fear. And if these apostles slip into fear and end up preaching fear to others, then they will not be bearers of God’s Good News. Let’s face it, we could all use a dose of good news right about now.
Here comes the set up to our fears as given to us by Jesus in today’s gospel passage: 1) “Nothing covered up will not be uncovered.” Everything about your life and mine will be uncovered. Uh oh. Feeling a little fear? I am. I’m not so sure I want everything I’ve done or said uncovered.
Here comes the second one: 2) “Nothing secret will not become known.” Every one of your secret thoughts, acts, attitudes, prejudices, etc. will become known. Uh oh. Feeling a little more fearful? I am. I would not want every secret I have ever kept aired for public scrutiny.
Here comes the third one: 3) “Don’t fear something or someone who can kill your body?” In other words, do not waste you time fearing cancer or the coronavirus or anything that can kill your body. You want to fear something? I’ll give you something to fear: “fear the one who can cast your body and soul into hell!” (Doesn’t Jesus sound like your mother when you were seven years old? Remember when she would say stuff like, “You wanna cry? I’ll give you something to cry about! You wanna fear something? I’ll give you something to fear!”). Jesus is ratchetting up the fear in you and me with each successive statement.
Then, just like in the Jeremiah story, there come a shift, this time from fear to love. In one sentence Jesus undercuts all our fear with this line: Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? You are meant to respond, “Yes, they are.” Sparrows, for all intents and purposes, are worthless. Yet, not one of these worthless birds falls to the ground and dies without God knowing it. If God takes notice of these little, insignificant creatures then why would you think, for even the shortest of moments, that God would not take care of you, you who are much more valuable than many sparrows? This is an argument from the lesser (sparrows) to the greater (you).
There is a Reality (God) that notice and cares for everything even, and especially, the things we are indifferent to including the hairs on your head that are all counted. You do not know how many hairs are on your head right now nor how many remained on the pillow when you woke up this morning. Nor do you care. But there is a Reality that cares about you so much that even the hairs on your head are accounted for.
Now when Jesus sent his apostles out on this first mission reminding them three times, “Do not be afraid,” it seems they heeded his message and were not afraid nor did they preach fear to others. Unfortunately, we have all known priests who did not follow Jesus’ advice and still do not 2000 years later. How do I know this? Because we still have Catholics in this diocese and all over the world who attend mass not because it is a love affair between them and God, but because it is fire insurance for the next world. In these priests and in these people there is little knowledge of the true God who loves you to the point of having every hair on their head accounted for. But, unfortunately, there is no shortage of knowledge of the false god who delights in casting you, body and soul, into hell. What a shame!
Before we get into the next moment of fear, let us remember—because we are all prone to forgetfulness—the great love God has for you and the entire world. Ponder that, and all fear dissipates.
Fr. Phil Mulligan