This Sunday the church returns to the continuous reading of Matthew’s Gospel. On the Sundays before Ash Wednesday, the church heard much of the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7). The Sundays of Lent and Easter have special readings all of their own, as do Pentecost and the two Sundays following it. With today’s readings, the church returns to Matthew’s narrative, having passed over two chapters that chronicle Jesus’ early ministry in Galilee. In Chapter 8, the Evangelist relates several great wonders and healings, including the healing of the Gadarene demoniacs and the calming of the storm. Matthew continues this theme in Chapter 9, but introduces a discordant note. With the healing of the paralytic, Jesus starts to encounter opposition. Matthew notes that when Jesus forgives the man’s sins, some of the scribes accuse him of blasphemy. Similar hostility colors the other episodes of this chapter, as even the disciples of John the Baptist arrive to challenge Jesus (Mt 9:14-17). Undeterred, Jesus expands his ministry by preparing the Twelve for missions of their own. In the Gospel reading today, Jesus prepares them for the rejection and hostility they can expect.
Fear no one! (Mt 10:26)
How do you respond to hostility?
How deep is your trust in God’s care?
What bold word can you speak for Christ?
Matthew often relates Jesus’ teachings against fear. Sometimes Jesus addresses anxieties over natural or material things, like food or clothing, and enjoins his listeners to trust in divine providence. Today Jesus addresses a different fear: fear of human opposition. Some rejected Jesus’ message with great hostility, and the Twelve were understandably anxious about being sent out to preach on their own.
The fearless, risky speech of Jeremiah and Jesus is both an example and a command to the church throughout time.
Jesus commands two simple things: fear no one and preach boldly. These themes appear throughout early Christian literature. Luke, for example, chooses to describe the way the early church spoke the Gospel with the word parrhesia, whose meanings include “bold speech,” “risky speech” and “speech for the common good.” Bold speakers may inspire fascination, but in an explosive environment like Roman-occupied Palestine, such fearless speech must have struck the Twelve as more imprudent than inspiring.
Jesus drew inspiration from another bold speaker, Jeremiah the prophet, the author of our first reading. His preaching aroused hostility; the king of Israel had his prophecies burned as they were read to him (Jer 36:20-26). The prophet, undeterred, simply sent him another scroll. His boast that “the Lord is with me like a mighty champion,” was no idle claim. Jeremiah was imprisoned, tortured and left to die in a muddy well; he was delivered each time. He never stopped preaching, and history proved his words to be correct.
Matthew was writing for Christians of every age. The fearless, risky speech of Jeremiah and Jesus is both an example and a command to the church throughout time. Jesus trusted in his heavenly Father and had confidence in his own message. As our second reading reminds us, his gift was not like our transgression; his love was greater than the world’s hate. We need to trust the same message. When Christians anywhere live the Gospel boldly and risk themselves for the good of humanity, they acknowledge Christ alive and at work in the world. These are the disciples on whom God relies to continue the Son’s mission as history unfolds.