Fear No One
Have you ever been the victim of bullying? I have. It’s awful. If you’re the victim, it’s all you think about. And, it’s much more of a psychological victimhood than a physical one. For me, this abuse was at it’s most intense when I was in middle school. For a while, during seventh grade, I even had a special route I used to walk home from school, a route that had me weaving and hiding through town until I was close enough to my house to run home if need be. I kept that route for several harrowing months. Looking back, I know those precautions were probably overkill on my part, but at the time they seemed completely reasonable. I was scared out of my wits. I acted out of fear, and that’s exactly what the bullies wanted. Those bullies were looking to intimidate me, and I was certainly intimidated.
Attempts at manipulating the behavior of others through fear do not stop, though, simply because people get older. Methods may change, threat of physical harm may decrease, but bullying as a tactic doesn’t really ever go away. The reason for this is simple. Intimidation works. Fear causes people to do and say things they wouldn’t ordinarily do and say. Fear often causes people to act against their own fervently held beliefs, even against their own consciences. Fear can cause individuals or groups to gain great power, wealth, and status. Fear can be (and historically has been) a terrible, but effective tool. And if it’s this effective for human beings, imagine what Satan can do with it.
The readings this weekend offer hope to those who find themselves the victims of any type of persecution, particularly persecution suffered in the name of the Lord. Collectively, the readings this Sunday remind us that God is on our side, especially when we are made to suffer precisely because we dare to publicly witness to our faith in God. In the first reading, it’s clear that Jeremiah is feeling the hateful words and actions of those around him, particularly those who used to be his friends. He even describes this feeling as “terror”. Yikes! And yet, despite knowing that these people are plotting against him, he is able to confidently continue professing his faith in the Lord, saying: “The LORD is with me, like a mighty champion”. The psalmist seems to have a similar experience to Jeremiah’s, having become an ‘outcast’ to his ‘brothers and a ‘stranger’ to his ‘children’, seemingly because of his dedication to God. He knows, however, that the ‘LORD hears the poor and his own who are in bonds he spurns not.’ What amazing faith! In the Gospel, Jesus tells the ‘Twelve’; ‘Fear no one.’ He says this while reminding them that God knows them better than could anyone looking to do them harm. Lest they think themselves insignificant and give in to the fear tactics of their persecutors, Jesus tells them that ‘even all the hairs of your head are counted.’ Translation: God knows you and is with you always.
As the second reading reminds us, when sin entered the world, so did death. And with death, came fear of death. And with fear of death, came an opportunity for darker elements of our society to take advantage of that fear for their own gain. Be strong! Know that our God walks with you every moment of every day. There is nothing God gives us that God will not also help us handle. That’s why we must not live in fear. By giving into fear, we unintentionally state our rejection of God’s presence in our world, in our lives. When we do this, we say: “God can do nothing here. I am alone”. That is not what we believe. That is not how we were created. We were created for love. We were created for service. We were created for witness. We were created for each other. We are God’s.