That nothing is concealed that will not be revealed and that every hair on my head is counted is a bit creepy. We live in a time when privacy is being eroded. We see the very accurate reconnaissance of drones from the war in Ukraine nightly and know that we are being watched and filmed in most public spaces in New York daily. Today’s passage from St. Matthew may begin with “Be not afraid”, but a fair question would be, “Is the kingdom of God the ultimate surveillance state and is this not scary?”
Let us back into an answer. This passage follows last week’s call to apostleship. Jesus told his followers that some of them were chosen to bring the good news to the whole world. After urging them not to take advantage of their position within the community he warned them about the persecution that would come from without. Jesus is quite blunt; persecution was inevitable and would be severe. This was the fate of all true prophets. Our first reading today is a case in point. Jeremiah having dared to tell his people truths they did not want to hear was threatened with death and only saved by divine intervention.
The LORD saved not only the prophets but also the entire nation of Israel many times from superior powers. He showed himself to be all-powerful, but should we find this comforting or threatening? How do we face his power?
The book of Proverbs says that “the beginning of Wisdom is fear of the Lord”. (Pro 9:10) This is an honest assessment. God is always beyond us and experiencing Him is dangerous. In the Hebrew Bible people felt that to see God was to die. Even Moses was told by God that “no one can see me and live”. (Exodus 33:20) Indeed priests were warned that if they enter the temple without proper preparation and indeed clothing they would perish (Ex. 28:35, 30:20) This is perhaps strange to us but that might be to our loss. There is a tendency to domesticate God, to want him tame and to forget that he is dangerous: we adapt to Him, not Him to us. But if the fear of the Lord is the beginning of Wisdom, it is not its end.
When we acknowledge that God is always great and powerful, we will view the convent relationship that the LORD offers us as the Jews did: with astonishment. When he gave Moses the commandments, he told the Israelites that he was showing them his special favor
… not because you are more numerous than all the peoples that the LORD set his heart on you and chose you; for you are really the smallest of all peoples. It was because the LORD loved you and because of his fidelity to the oath he had sworn to your ancestors, that the LORD brought you out with a strong hand and redeemed you from the house of slavery, from the hand of Pharaoh, king of Egypt.(Deuteronomy 7:7-8)
God revealed his power to the people of Israel to show his love for them. They could do nothing for him but would do everything for them. The Jews knew that his greatest gift to them was the law which they correctly understood as a way of life that bound them to God and to each other. The passage above continues:
Know, then, that the LORD, your God, is God: the faithful God who keeps covenant mercy to the thousandth generation toward those who love him and keep his commandments. (Deuteronomy 7:9)￼
Centuries later they would sing of the Lord’s great gift with: God has not done this for other nations; of such laws they know nothing. Hallelujah! (Ps 147:20).
Their relationship with the LORD was one of intimacy. He truly cared about them. In Isaiah we read:
Can a mother forget her infant,
be without tenderness for the child of her womb?
Even should she forget,
I will never forget you. (Isaiah 49:15)
A mother’s love is the best image that we have of God’s love for us. Matthew himself will return to it:
Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how many times I yearned to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her young under her wings, but you were unwilling! (Mt 23:37).
God’s response to this reluctance was not to abandon us, a reasonable solution, but for Jesus to die for us, a most unreasonable one. Love is not reasonable. And real loving, truly wishing the good of the other in all circumstances, is frightening. Even our very fitful human attempts to love are disturbing and destabilizing. All love binds and changes us.
It is necessary then for this all-powerful God to reassure us often, and “be not afraid” is used almost 300 times in the Bible. We are right to fear his power; indeed not in spite of the fact that He is love but because he is. He tells us not to be afraid because love can often be misunderstood in merely human terms, but he is love itself. He knows that he will change us to become more like him, but that also will make us more of who we truly are. It will also bind us more to one another, especially to those who are seen as fully human only by him.
This love is with us at every time of our lives. Today we will baptize 2 infants, Sebastian and Amy. They are at the very beginning of their journey with Jesus. This will be my last Sunday Mass at St. Charles, and I will now begin my final chapter of active ministry. Jesus has been with me in all the others as he will be with Sebastian and Amy for every part of their journey, helping us to do right, sustaining us when we do not, and loving us always.
There is nothing to fear. The most terrifying force in the universe has shown us in Jesus that God is not the spy in the sky above us, but the Spirit of love among us.