Commentary by Donagh O’Shea OP, www.goodnews.ie
So have no fear of them; for nothing is covered up that will not be uncovered, and nothing secret that will not become known. What I say to you in the dark, tell in the light; and what you hear whispered, proclaim from the housetops. Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul; rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell. Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. And even the hairs of your head are all counted. So do not be afraid; you are of more value than many sparrows. Everyone therefore who acknowledges me before others, I also will acknowledge before my Father in heaven; but whoever denies me before others, I also will deny before my Father in heaven.
The other readings at today’s Mass describe situations of fear and terrible anxiety. The Responsorial Psalms follows suit: “I have borne reproach… shame has covered my face.” Then the gospel reading begins, “Have no fear….”
This phrase, “Have no fear” runs like a refrain through the Gospel, indeed through the whole Bible. To Abram, God said, “Do not be afraid, I am your shield.” To the prophets, “Do not be afraid, I am with you.” To Mary, the angel said, “Do not be afraid.” To the apostles, Jesus said, “Do not be afraid.” To Paul, the Lord said, “Do not be afraid.” To all his disciples, Jesus said, “Do not be afraid, little flock” (Luke 12:32).
Fear is a powerful factor in the life of every human being, perhaps especially in people who pretend to have no fear. Children are afraid of the dark; teenagers are often afraid of themselves, or of the other sex, or of life itself. In young and old alike, fear can express itself as shyness, feelings of inferiority, aggression, and (most painful of all) anxiety. Anxiety is a generalised form of fear: fear of nothing in particular but of everything in general. It is often about possible future troubles rather than present ones: the future, possible illness or accident, and death.
We often tell one another, “Don’t worry, don’t be afraid.” But there is only slight comfort in it, because we all know how easy it is to say this when we are not in the line of fire ourselves.
Today’s gospel reading offers a more substantial support. It does not say, “Don’t be afraid, it won’t happen.” It says something more like, “Don’t be afraid; it may well happen, but when it does happen you will not be destroyed as a person.” This is the difference between optimism and hope. The 14th-century English mystic Julian of Norwich put it clearly. “He did not say, ‘You will not be tempted, you will not be troubled, you will not be distressed,’ but he said, ‘You will not be overcome.’”
“Nothing is covered up that will not be uncovered, and nothing secret that will not become known.” The truth will out. There are no hidden traps or hiding-places. In the ultimate stakes everything will stand in the full light of truth; everything, even the detail. “Even the hairs of your head are all counted.” There is a Father who cares about what we do and what happens to us. “Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom” (Luke 12:32).
From the beginning and throughout the ages Christians have found strength in this. St Paul wrote to the Corinthians, “Thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, my beloved, be steadfast, immovable, always excelling in the work of the Lord, because you know that in the Lord your labour is not in vain” (1 Cor. 15:57-58).