This exhortation must have been very important for Jesus, because he repeats it three times in the short passage of today’s gospel. However, before going any further, we need to understand the context of what Jesus is saying. Fear is an important part of our human nature. If I were not afraid of anything, I would be prone to do stupid things that would hurt or damage me. So, in certain circumstances, fear is a natural, healthy way of preserving my well-being.
Today’s gospel passage is taken from the tenth chapter of Matthew’s gospel, where Jesus calls the twelve apostles and sends them out on their mission. He reminds them that they will be going “like sheep among wolves”. He tells them that, not only will there be people who will not accept their teaching, but they will even have to suffer injustices because of their mission. He also reminds them that he himself had been called a devil by his opponents, and they should not expect to receive better treatment! Indeed, humanly speaking, Jesus’ words are not very encouraging!
This is where Jesus tells these disciples that, in spite of all this, they need not fear. Not because they are naïve or ignorant of the dangers. But simply because they are going to be in very good hands, those of God the Father. He who looks after the little birds of the air, will definitely be looking after them. After all, they are much more valuable than a little sparrow! Moreover, God the Father is constantly aware of what they are going through. Our God is not an indifferent god, who does not care of what’s happening in our lives. “Even the hairs of your head are all counted,” Jesus tells them - a beautiful image abut how God knows every little detail about us.
The words addressed to the twelve disciples are also being addressed to us. Thanks to our baptism, we are all called to participate in the mission of Jesus. Wherever we happen to be in our little world, be it at work, at home, or amongst our friends, we are called to bring good news: to help people understand that there is a God who loves and who cares. This is the news that Jesus constantly proclaimed in his life here on Earth. There will be times when this will not be easy. Particularly when we will have to live out what we are trying to convey to others. Jesus’ message was a continuous message of love: loving neighbor, loving your enemy, unconditionally forgiving, constantly giving of yourself and dying to yourself for others. Some may take advantage. Others might make fun of you, especially when you don’t take advantage to advance simply because you want to do the right thing, or when they see you constantly trying to forgive those who harm you. This is where the words “do not fear” will make sense. Irrespective of how difficult it seems, God will be accompanying us and giving us the strength necessary to do what we are being called to do.
Having said all this, the final words of Jeremiah’s song in today’s first reading ring in our hearts: “Sing to the lord; praise the Lord! For he has delivered the life of the needy from the hands of evildoers.”