The gospel that I just read is from the tenth chapter of Matthew. It is when Jesus sends out the apostles to “Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those who have leprosy, drive out demons.” He adds, “Freely you have received; freely give”.
For 42 versus, in that chapter, Jesus tells them what to expect, how they should travel, what to bring, what to say, and how to leave. “I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore, be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves. Be on your guard; you will be handed over to the local councils and be flogged in the synagogues. On my account you will be brought before governors and kings as witnesses to them and to the Gentiles. But when they arrest you, do not worry about what to say or how to say it. At that time, you will be given what to say, for it will not be you speaking, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you.”
If you put yourself into their place, I am not sure that any of this was all that comforting. “Wait a minute, can we go back to that part about being flogged and arrested?”
Today is the feast of Saint Sebastian, a martyr of the early church. In the time of Diocletian anyone found to be a follower of Christ was immediately punished or killed. Saint Sebastian became a member of the army of Rome with the intention of helping the martyrs. Because of his courage in battle, he was made one of the captains of the Praetorian Guards under emperor Diocletian.
In 286 his faith was discovered. Diocletian convicted him of his supposed betrayal, and he commanded him to be led to a field and tied to a tree so that a group of hand selected archers could shoot arrows at him. After he was “full of arrows” he was left for dead. When a local widow went to retrieve and bury his body, she was found that he was not dead. She took him home and nursed him back to health. Once healthy, naturally, Sebastian decided that he would confront Diocletian. He stood on a prominent city staircase and waited for the emperor to walk by where he heckled him and accused him of cruelty against Christians. Needless to say, this was not typically done to a roman emperor, especially not by a man that was supposed to be dead. So, they took him out and beat him to death.
It was almost as if the verse from Matthew was tailored for Saint Sebastian. He was handed over to local councils, he was flogged, he was shot, he was beaten. I am not trying to make light of this. The Diocletianic or Great Persecution was the last and most severe of the persecution of the Christians in the Roman Empire.
This interesting part of this chapter of Matthew is that the section that we read this morning is the only part that offers some consolidation. “Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground outside your Father’s care. And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. So don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.” He is telling us that our Father I heaven is intimately aware of what is going on in our life. Afterall, if something as insignificant as a half cent sparrow does not escape His attention, how can anything in our life go unnoticed?
In the first reading we hear that we are to “Always be ready to give an explanation to anyone who asks you for a reason for your hope,”. Maybe the answer to that question is not, because I am worth more than a sparrow”. But perhaps it is something along the lines of the fact that the God of all creation knows me, loves me, values me and because of this we are not afraid.”
This is not intended to be a Polly Anna-ish answer. God’s love for me does not mean that I have no difficulties, or that everything is always “hunky dory”. Remember when we recognize that God answers all of our questions, we have to expect that sometimes that answer is “no”. Or better still we have to recognize that sometimes the answer to our requests is that God has a better idea.
The gospel starts with a warning, “Jesus tells the twelve: “Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul; rather, be afraid of the one who can destroy both soul and body.”
That, after all is the point. Remember that we are children of God. We are called to “bless the LORD at all times; his praise shall be ever in [our] mouth. Let [our] soul glory in the LORD; the lowly will hear and be glad.
Jesus said to the Twelve:
“Do not be afraid of those who kill the body
but cannot kill the soul;
rather, be afraid of the one who can destroy
both soul and body in Gehenna.
Are not two sparrows sold for a small coin?
Yet not one of them falls to the ground without your Father’s knowledge.
Even all the hairs of your head are counted.
So do not be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.
Everyone who acknowledges me before others
I will acknowledge before my heavenly Father.
But whoever denies me before others,
I will deny before my heavenly Father.”
January 20, 2022
January 20, 2022