HOMILY FOR THE TWELFTH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME, YEAR A
HOMILY THEME: BITE THE BULLET
BY: Fr. Mike Lagrimas
A little boy was asked by his mother to go to the stockroom and get the broom for her. The boy complained: “But Mom, it’s too dark in there! I’m afraid!” The mother insisted: “Don’t be afraid, my son. You know Jesus is there.” With much trepidation, the boy opened the door of the stockroom. And in a very sweet voice, called out: “Jesus, can you hand me the broom, please?” In the Gospel this Sunday, Jesus said to his disciples, “Do not be afraid.” He had to say it three times. Perhaps he may have seen the terror in the eyes of his disciples when he warned them: “Behold, I am sending you like sheep in the midst of wolves.” (Mt 10:16).
The first reading this Sunday gives us the same message. Jeremiah was constantly threatened by his enemies. Not that he was a bad person. On the contrary, as prophet, he was God’s instrument in proclaiming the truth to the people. But for some people, the truth hurts. So they could not accept God’s message. And the most logical thing to do would be to silence the messenger. Hence, all prophets suffered the same fate: they were killed by their own people. After the prophets, God spoke to His people through His Son, Jesus Christ. He, too, suffered the same fate.
The little boy was afraid of the dark. That’s totally understandable. As Christians, we are not friends of the dark. We are children of light. As mere mortals, we naturally fear darkness. But, in reality, it is the other way around. It is darkness that should fear us, for we are bearers of the light. Darkness disappears when light enters, faint or flickering though it may be.
It should be noted that this exhortation of Jesus is part of his instructions to his disciples as he sends them out on mission to proclaim the Gospel. Before his ascent to heaven, Jesus entrusted his followers with the mission and duty: “Go into the whole world and proclaim the gospel to every creature” (Mk 16:15). The Apostle St. Paul realized the gravity of this command, and so he confided to the Corinthians, “If I preach the gospel, this is no reason for me to boast, for an obligation has been imposed on me, and woe to me if I do not preach it!” (1Cor 9:16).
That is why he did not mind undergoing hardships and suffering on account of this duty: “Five times at the hands of the Jews I received forty lashes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked, I passed a night and a day on the deep; on frequent journeys, in dangers from rivers, dangers from robbers, dangers from my own race, dangers from Gentiles, dangers in the city, dangers in the wilderness, dangers at sea, dangers among false brothers; in toil and hardship, through many sleepless nights, through hunger and thirst, through frequent fastings, through cold and exposure” (2Cor 11:24-27). Perhaps we may say, “Well, that is St. Paul, the greatest missionary and preacher of all times. But I am just an ordinary Christian. I can’t be that tough and steadfast.” Nonetheless, the coming of the kingdom is to be proclaimed by all of Christ’s followers, regardless of rank or stature, and no fear must be allowed to deter them from that proclamation.
Realizing too, the real danger at hand and his own inadequacies, Pope Benedict XVI, at his papal inauguration, made this appeal: “Pray for me, that I may not flee for fear of the wolves. Let us pray for one another, that the Lord will carry us and that we will learn to carry one another” (24 April, 2005).
The first law of nature is self-preservation. Instinctively, we avoid pain and sufferings. But in the face of such a grave duty to proclaim the Good News of the Kingdom, we have to “bite the bullet”, and move on despite all odds. As a song in the Charismatic Movement says, “I have decided to follow Jesus; no turning back, no turning back. The cross before me, the world behind me. No turning back, no turning back.” After all, Jesus laid down this indispensable condition of discipleship: “Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me” (Mt 16:24). We are following a crucified Lord. We cannot expect an easy way ahead. We ought not to avoid the cross, despite this first law of nature. Avoiding the inevitable is pointless.
Thomas Merton points this out: “The more you try to avoid suffering, the more you suffer, because smaller and more insignificant things begin to torture you, in proportion to your fear of being hurt. The one who does most to avoid suffering is, in the end, the one who suffers most.” (The Seven Storey Mountain).
This Sunday, let us try to honestly examine ourselves. Why do we tell lies? Perhaps it is because the truth may not be to our own advantage, or it may offend somebody we deeply regard. Why are we reluctant to speak about the Lord and the hard truths of his teachings? It could that we are afraid to be ridiculed or ostracized by society, to be branded as being judgmental and intolerant. Why do we resort to dishonesty and unjust practices in our means of living? Mostly like because we do not want to lose our wealth, and the prospect of undergoing economic difficulties scares us. Why are we hesitant to fully give ourselves in love? Perhaps because we have been hurt before, and we cannot allow ourselves to get hurt again. Why do we avoid suffering and self-sacrifice? Because we are too full of ourselves. The list can go on and on. In all these, one conclusion is clear: selfishness is the root cause of all our fears.
So Jesus poses to us the challenge: “Deny yourselves. Forget the self.” It is the sure way to discover the fullness of life: “For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it” (Mt 16:25). When Jesus said, “Do not be afraid”, we may dare to say that it is tantamount to saying, “Let selfishness vanish from your heart.” When selfishness is gone, only then can we begin to truly love. And ultimately, it is love that drives away all fear: “There is no fear in love, but perfect love drives out fear because fear has to do with punishment, and so one who fears is not yet perfect in love” (1 Jn 4:18).
If out of fear, we are tempted to shy away from fulfilling our Christian duty, let the words of the heroic St. Ignatius of Antioch console and inspire us: “Our task is not one of producing persuasive propaganda; Christianity shows its greatness when it is hated by the world” (Letter to the Romans).
Fr. Mike Lagrimas
Our Lady of Guadalupe Parish Palmera Springs 3, Susano Road Camarin, Novaliches, Caloocan City 1422