FAITH OVERCOMES FEAR

  


SCRIPTURE READINGS: [ Gn 49:29-33; 50:15-26; Ps 105:1-4,6-7; Mt 10:24-38]

Fear is what paralyses us in life.  Many of us are afraid to venture out because of fear of the future.  We all fear pain and suffering.  We fear the unknown.  Because of the fear of rejection, we are afraid to be true to ourselves, to our beliefs and convictions.  We fear our friends might reject us, our enemies might take revenge against us, and our opponents defeat us.  Our fear springs from our past and the future.

This was the case of the brothers of Joseph.  After Jacob’s death, they were fearful that Joseph might seek revenge against them for what they did to him years ago.  They continued to live in guilt of their past misdeeds.  They could not forgive themselves and so projected their fears onto Joseph.  They could not believe that their brother Joseph had forgiven them.  Their insecurity about Joseph of course was not something new.  They felt insecure already when Joseph shared his dreams of being a great ruler over them one day.  They were made more insecure when he was the favourite of their father.  That was why they wanted to get rid of him.

The truth is, the leopard cannot change its spots.  The first reading again showed that they had never changed.  They cheated Joseph before and again sought to cheat him by claiming that the Father asked them to give the message to Joseph, saying, “‘Oh forgive your brothers their crime and their sin and all the wrong they did you.’ Now therefore, we beg you, forgive the crime of the servants of your father’s God.'”  We read that when Joseph heard it, he “wept at the message they sent to him.”  Why did he weep at that message?  Was it because he really believed that was what the father had said to him, or was it more likely that Joseph saw through their fears and the lack of trust in his word to look after them.   I surmise that he must be grieved to know that his brothers had not change their attitude towards him; always so full of suspicion and fear.

The crux of their fear was not Joseph, but because they could not forgive themselves.  They continued to live in the past.  They could not let go and move on.  And that is true for many of us.  We cannot move on in life.  We are shackled to our past failures; mistakes made in our work, in our relationships, especially with our spouse and loved ones.  We keep going back to the time when we were hurt by our parents, our siblings, our spouse and our friends or colleagues.  We keep using the past negative experiences as our lens to view the present situation and people when people do change and past events are past.  So long as we cannot let go of our past hurts, fears and prejudices, we close ourselves to the future ahead of us.

In the gospel, we have another kind of fear, not so much because of the past but of the future.  The disciples were worried about their future, having seen the opposition that Jesus faced in His ministry.  They were anxious about their life and whether they could handle their enemies when they spoke the truth and proclaimed the Good News about God.  More so when Jesus told them, “The disciple is not superior to his teacher, nor the slave to his master.  It is enough for the disciple that he should grow to be like his teacher, and the slave like his master.  If they have called the master of the house Beelzebub, what will they not say of his household?”  Indeed, if Jesus was so opposed by the religious leaders, why should they expect to be spared?  They too would suffer the same fate as Jesus in being misunderstood, slandered, opposed and marginalized.  Would they be ready to be messengers of the Good News in the face such opposition?

Indeed, they were afraid, just as many of us are afraid.  Catholics fight shy of sharing Jesus with others and inviting others to come and know Jesus.  Although we claim that Jesus is the Way, the Truth and the Life, we tell no one about Him.  Our faith does not agree with our words and actions.  Most Catholics do not even dare to let others know that they are Catholic.  They hide their identity as Christ’s disciples.  They are not proud to be Catholic.  The reason is simply because they are afraid of rejection, ridicule and opposition.  But Jesus made it clear, “if anyone declares himself for me in the presence of men, I will declare myself for him in the presence of my Father in heaven.  But the one who disowns me in the presence of men, I will disown in the presence of my Father in heaven.”

How, then, can we overcome our fears that come from our past and the unpredictability of the future?  We need to have faith.  Firstly, faith in God’s forgiveness.  Joseph in the first reading is a prototype of Christ.  In spite of all that his brothers had done to him, always deceiving him, yet he was always forgiving of their weaknesses.  He knew where they were coming from, namely, their fears and insecurity.  So Joseph learned to accept them as they were without condemning them.  That is how God deals with us in Christ.  He always forgives us for our failings and our past.  He does not condemn us for our past.  “It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.”  (1 Cor 13:5 NIV)  We need to claim God’s forgiveness in our lives.

How can we know that we have accepted His forgiveness?  When we begin to realize that God allows us to make mistakes so that we can learn and grow.   When Joseph’s brothers came before him and fell down before him saying, “We present ourselves before you as your slaves”, Joseph reassured them as he did before, “Do not be afraid; is it for me to put myself in God’s place? The evil you planned to do me has by God’s design been turned to good, that he might bring about, as indeed he has, the deliverance of a numerous people.”  Joseph saw the sins of humanity as the way in which God shapes and moulds us and unfolds His plan for us.  Indeed, St Paul wrote, “We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn within a large family.” (Rom 8:28f)

Indeed, Jesus Himself learnt obedience through suffering.  “Although he was a Son, he learned obedience through what he suffered; and having been made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him.”  (Heb 5:8f)  Jesus said a similar thing to the disciples at Emmaus. “‘Oh, how foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have declared!  Was it not necessary that the Messiah should suffer these things and then enter into his glory?’  Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them the things about himself in all the scriptures.”

Secondly, we need to have faith in His divine promises.  This was the faith of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and Joseph.  Hence, Jacob gave his sons these instructions to bury him near his fathers, “in the cave that is in the field of Ephron the Hittite, in the cave in the field at Machpelah, opposite Mamre, in the land of Canaan, which Abraham bought from Ephron the Hittite as a burial-plot.”  So, too, Joseph reminded his brothers, “‘I am about to die; but God will be sure to remember you kindly and take you back from this country to the land that he promised on oath to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.’  And Joseph made Israel’s sons swear on oath, ‘When God remembers you with kindness be sure to take my bones from here.'”  They were confident that God would be true to His promises to give them a Kingdom and a land of their own.  This was what the Lord assured His apostles, “For everything that is now covered will be uncovered, and everything now hidden will be made clear.  What I say to you in the dark, tell in the daylight; what you hear in whispers, proclaim from the house tops.”  God is faithful.  We must believe that God will fulfil His promises made to us.  “O children of Abraham, his servant, O sons of the Jacob he chose. He, the Lord, is our God: his judgements prevail in all the earth.”

Finally, we need to rely on His divine providence.  Jesus said, “Do not be afraid of those that kill the body but cannot kill the soul; fear him rather who can destroy both body and soul in hell.  Can you not buy two sparrows for a penny?  And yet not one falls to the ground without your Father knowing.  Why, every hair on your head has been counted.  So there is no need to be afraid; you are worth more than hundreds of sparrows.”  God will take care of us.  Joseph also reassured his brothers, “‘So you need not be afraid; I myself will provide for you and your dependants.’  In this way he reassured them with words that touched their hearts.”  Indeed, God will protect us and grant us eternal life with Him even if we were to die.

With faith that comes from prayer and thanksgiving following that of the psalmist, God will grant us the faith to forgive our past and look forward to the future with hope and confidence.  “Seek the Lord, you who are poor, and your hearts will revive. Give thanks to the Lord, tell his name, make known his deeds among the peoples. O sing to him, sing his praise; tell all his wonderful works!  Be proud of his holy name, let the hearts that seek the Lord rejoice. Consider the Lord and his strength; constantly seek his face.”  Have confidence in His forgiveness and fidelity to us!


Written by The Most Rev William Goh, Roman Catholic Archbishop of Singapore © All Rights Reserved


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