Summoned to Belong
Twelfth Sunday of the Year. Fr Mark Edney preaches on the challenge of overcoming the deadly fear abroad in modern society.
Matthew tells us that Jesus ‘summoned’ his disciples. What he has to say is simply for them, but they are not to keep it to themselves. Once their period of instruction is over then ‘what they have heard in whispers they are to proclaim from the housetops.’
Before they can continue with this work of proclamation they have to learn to get over their fear. This fear has two objects: fear of those who oppose Jesus and his representatives and fear that God will leave them defenceless. There is an external fear which comes from violence and threat, and an internal fear which comes from a lack of confidence in God’s loving providence. Jesus tells his disciples that they must not be overwhelmed by either. If we allow ourselves to be mastered by fear then we fail in our service of our own true Master: Jesus the Lord.
The discreet instruction that Jesus gives to his disciples is really about the consequences of that belonging to the Lord which we call witness. In accepting the summons of Jesus the disciples achieve a mysterious kind of unity with him. The way that he travels will be the path that they too must follow. A few verses earlier Jesus warns them of the consequences of that belonging. In belonging to him they will be rejected by sanhedrins and synagogues, governors and kings, brothers, fathers and children. In other words every human relationship and every social bond will be tested by this belonging to the Lord.
It is when they are living out the intensity of communion with the Lord that what they truly are will be most powerfully revealed. The witness they offer will not come from other forms of human belonging or other forms of political, social or family solidarity, but from faith in God and in Jesus as the one he has sent.
This is why Jesus then goes on to talk about revelation. ‘Everything now covered up, will be uncovered.’ In our world where it is assumed that government and social relations proceed on the basis of ‘cover up’, disclosure can only seem like a threat. Many of us, only too aware of our shortcomings and failures, dread the embarrassment of disclosure. Sometimes, fear of exposure prevents us from doing the good of which we are capable and which we have been created to perform. Jesus tells his disciples not to be afraid of this fear which undermines the integrity of giving witness.
The ministry of Christian witness is to disclose the foundations of fidelity. The disciples are to refuse to be intimidated by the structures of cover-up which the world tries to force on them for fear that the basis of its own survival be threatened. The world, which has lost that courteous respect for privacy which is essential for the flourishing of all human relationships and which has vulgarised the language of intimacy, tries to force the confinement of a false privacy on those who proclaim their belonging to Jesus the Lord. This belonging has only ‘private’ significance, but no form of ‘belonging’ can have only private significance. We always belong with and belong to. In the end that belonging has to be cashed. It has to be made visible. It has to be proclaimed.
In a world where the ephemeral is the norm and impermanence and flexibility the ideal it is easy to fear the commitment of belonging. Jesus says we are not to fear those who persecute us simply because we refuse to belong to the merely contingent. He reminds us not to fear that God will let go of us. We belong in the palm of his hand and not to the changing patterns of a world that has all the forms of self-assurance without the conviction of self- possession.