In all our lives there are areas that are quite public and other areas that are very private. We are happy to talk about some things in the public forum, but careful to talk about other matters only in the privacy of our home, or perhaps not at all. The line between the private and the public can vary between one person and another. Issues that some people might consider to be of legitimate public interest, others might regard as belonging exclusively in the private domain. We know more about some people than about others, and some are more open about themselves and their lives than others. Whereas we might consider some people too closed, keeping private what could easily be shared with others, we might think of others as too open, sharing too easily what would better be kept private.
In today’s gospel reading, Jesus says: ‘What I say to you in the dark, tell in the daylight; what you hear in whispers, proclaim from the house-tops’. It is clear from the context that what Jesus wants people to tell in the daylight, to proclaim from the housetops, is the gospel, the good news that Jesus himself preached and lived. Jesus wants his disciples to declare themselves for him publicly, to acknowledge him openly. The gospel reading strongly suggests that our faith is to be lived publicly.
When we look at the private areas and the public areas of our lives, where does our faith belong? Do we see it as belonging more to the private area or to the public area? There was a time in our history when living the faith, in its Roman Catholic form, was against the law of the land, and, in order to stay alive, people were forced to live their faith in a private, undemonstrative way. That phenomenon of the ‘underground Church’, as it is often called, was not unique to Uganda. The ‘underground Church’ was a significant reality in certain parts of the World up to date.
In more recent decades, there has been a tendency for believers to retreat somewhat from the public domain. Many of us have become more circumspect about witnessing to our faith. We are less likely to publicly declare our allegiance to Christ. We sense that the environment has become more hostile to the gospel, and in that, we are probably right. The recent exposure of scandals in the Church has been one factor in all of this. There is a danger that we will have a collective loss of nerve when it comes to the gospel and to the Church, through and in which, for all its faults, we receive and hear the gospel. This Sunday’s readings have something important to say to us in that context. Three times in the course of the gospel reading, Jesus calls on his disciples not to be afraid. The fear he is talking about is the fear of witnessing publicly to himself. We all have a whole variety of legitimate fears. Parents will be fearful of their children getting into trouble; we are all fearful of a nuclear arms race, of the consequences of growing inequality both at home and on a more global scale. There are many things about which we need a healthy fear. However, Jesus strongly indicates in today’s gospel reading that one thing we should not be fearful of is bearing public witness to himself and his gospel.
In saying to his disciple, ‘Do not be afraid’, Jesus was not trying to minimize the opposition they would encounter when they began to proclaim the gospel by their lives. He is not saying to them or to us, ‘do not be afraid because there is nothing to fear’. There are a set of values embodied in the gospel, in our faith, that are very challenging and will be experienced as threatening by some, perhaps even by ourselves from time to time. There can often be a risk in taking a public stand for gospel values, such as the respect for life at all its stages, justice for all, the fundamental equality of all men and women under God, the priority of forgiveness over revenge, of serving over acquiring. Jesus was saying, ‘do not be afraid because when you courageously bear witness to me and my gospel, God will be watching over you’, or, in the words of Jeremiah in today’s first reading, the Lord will be at your side. The gospel reading is assuring us that the Father cares deeply for those disciples who have the courage to live publicly their faith in Jesus and his gospel.
St. Paul in one of his letters speaks about carrying a treasure in earthen jars. He was referring to the treasure of the gospel, and he understood himself to be the earthen jar. We are all carrying a treasure in earthen jars. The fact that we show ourselves to be all too earthen from time to time does not make what we carry any the less of a treasure. In today’s gospel reading Jesus assures his disciples of their worth: ‘you are worth more than hundreds of sparrows’. Who we are as Christians and the values we stand for are of inestimable worth. If we really appreciated that worth, it would go a long way towards making us less fearful in the living of our faith. Amen
HAPPY FATHER’S DAY.
Fr. John Peter