We are experiencing very difficult times. We are subject to a pandemic for which there is currently no cure. The murder of an African-American man has caused wide-spread civil unrest. Many people have lost jobs, businesses and financial security. Surrounded by such distress we easily can despair.
The message in this Sunday’s Gospel is truly good news for us during this difficult time. Jesus says twice, “Fear no one” and “do not be afraid.” He also tells us of God’s infinite care for even the smallest part of creation. Describing sparrows, he says, “Are not two sparrows sold for a small coin. Yet not one of them falls to the ground without your Father’s knowledge … you are worth more than many sparrows.” There is no cause for fear and the Father has infinite care for all of his creation.
It is so easy to be fearful as we watch and read about the horrible things happening in our world. When Jesus tells us not to be afraid, he encourages us to put our faith in God above all of our fears and worries. Putting our faith in God means that we acknowledge that God is a loving Father who will protect us. Someone counted the times that the message of not being afraid occurs in Scripture and found that variations on the theme of trust show up 365 times in both testaments combined. Jesus, as the one sent by God, makes this message a central theme of his life and ministry. Even during the agony in the garden Jesus dreaded what was about to happen, but maintained his trust in the Father when he said, “Not my will but thine be done.”
One of the great scandals of Christianity for contemporary atheists comes from the attitude that if God is all knowing, all powerful, and absolutely infinite, God would not be interested in a single human being. Jesus contradicts this attitude when he tells us about sparrows. God has infinite care even for all those things we think of as insignificant. How much more concern God has for human beings, for only human beings are described as being made in the image and likeness of God. Jesus tells us that we are worth more than many sparrows.
As Jesus hung on the cross he prayed from Psalm 22. “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me, far from my prayer from the words of my cry.” It seems that Jesus is in a state of absolute despair. If we continue to read the psalm all the way to its conclusion we find it is really a cry of exaltation. “Let the coming generation be told of the Lord that they may proclaim to a people yet to be born the justice he has shown.”
Yes, we are living in difficult times. We must learn to listen to Jesus. Do not be afraid. God cares for the very least creatures of the world. All of this comes from an attitude of deep faith.
Fr. Treloar, an assistant director at Jesuit Retreat House, Oshkosh, has served as a professor, lecturer, author and academic administrator.