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  • Writer's pictureRevShirleyMurphy

‘Do not fear’.

This week my husband told me about a minor altercation that he had witnessed in our local supermarket. An elderly lady verbally lashed out at a young man who had unintentionally got too close to her at a food counter; angrily accusing him of putting her at risk from COVOD-19.

Fortunately, my husband intervened and ended up having to comfort and reassure the bewildered and frightened young man. It’s all too easy to judge in these situations. The elderly lady’s reaction whilst slight over the top probably had its roots in fear. However, the net result of her retaliatory behaviour was it subsequently instilled fear in an innocent young man.

It seems that in some strange way that fear can be as contagious as COVID-19! Fear is a reoccurring theme throughout scripture because it is a common human reaction. It is also one of the central themes woven through this morning’s lectionary readings.

Today is Father’s Day and it is fitting that our Old Testament reading is all about Abraham whose name appropriately means ‘The Father of many nations’. God had promised Abraham a son and heir in his old age (Genesis 15). However, when initially, nothing happened the couple became fearful and decided to take matters into their own hands. Sarah convinced Abraham to father a son through their Egyptian slave Hagar (Gen 16). The result was the birth of Ishmael (whose name in Hebrew means ‘God hears’).

One day three strangers (angels or God in disguise) came to Abraham’s tent in the heat of the day. He welcomed them with generous hospitality. In return the men assured them that Sarah would indeed bare a son. However, Sarah laughed at this seemingly impossible promise. Yet God was true to his promise and Sarah bore Abraham a son who they named Isaac. In time Sarah gradually becomes jealous of Hagar and fearful that Ishmael would usurp Isaac. She decided to take matters into her own hands and put pressure on Abraham to get rid of Hagar and Ishmael. He reluctantly did so and sent them off into the Wilderness with food and water that quickly ran out. Facing death Hagar cried out to God who heard and said: ‘What troubles you, Hagar? Do not be afraid; for God has heard the voice of the boy where he is. (Genesis 21:17) God then went on to make a promise similar to the one that he made to Abraham that he would make Ishmael into a great nation.

In today’s Old Testament story, it appears that for Abraham his fear was not having a son and heir. Despite God’s repeated promise to him (Gen 17 & 18) that he would be the Father of many nations both he and Sarah appeared to doubt God’s promise. When nothing appeared to be happening, they sought to take matters into their own hands. Their fear was ultimately misdirected, for God was indeed working his purposes out and the end result was a blessing for both Isaac and Ishmael.

Today’s Gospel passage is taken from the end of Jesus’ instruction to the Twelve apostles as he sends them forth in pairs to prepare the people for His own coming, giving them a share in His own powers of miraculous healing. He instructs them to live simply and to expect opposition and rejection. After having predicted future opposition and persecution, Jesus encourages his disciples to stand firm. Three times they are urged, “Do not fear!” “Do not be afraid!” {‘Have no fear’ (10:26), ‘Do not fear’ (10:28), ‘Do not be afraid’ (10:31)}. Instead of shrinking from their task, they are to proclaim the Gospel boldly because they will be protected, just as Jeremiah was assured of God’s protection. Hence, Jesus commands his disciples not to fear their persecutors. He presents before them the image of the sparrow to reinforce the disciples’ trust and Hope in God.

The readings hint at the opposition the Apostles themselves would meet, and we future Christians will encounter as we carry on the work of Jesus in the world, and they encourage us to persevere in doing the work of Jesus.

They assure us that we will be successful despite the opposition we encounter. They were specifically told not to be afraid of people; what they might say or what they might do to them or of death - probably their greatest fear. Why should they not fear? Because God was watching over them in the same way that he cares and watches over the sparrows and they were of more value than sparrows.

Even in these days, fathers are expected to be the providers for, and the protectors of, the family. They are also supposed to be attuned emotionally and spiritually to their wives and children and to be able to balance careers with family life. They make sacrifices day after day for their families. They try to give their youngsters the kind of model that, surely, they deserve above all else, a model of goodness, holiness, faith, trust in God, and fidelity to the teachings of the Church. This is what Father’s Day should remind us of. This is a time for all fathers to reflect upon their duties as responsible and well-integrated men. True fatherhood demands commitment. Commitment demands maturity, sacrifice, and love. Fatherhood also demands responsibility. Every true father will take responsibility for all of his actions. Our nation has an urgent need for good fathers.

I know that Father’s Day can be difficult for some people particularly for those who have recently lost their dad and for those who had a difficult relationship with their father. What can we learn from this morning’s readings? God our Heavenly Father loves, delights in and cares for his children. God sees and hears their cries just as he saw and heard the cries of his people exiled in Egypt: ‘So God heard their groaning and God remembered his covenant with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob” (Exodus 2:24).

In today’s narrative God heard the cry of Ishmael (whose name means ‘God hears’) and said: “Do not fear’. Likewise, God in Christ says to his followers and that includes you and me: ‘Do not fear; do not be afraid’. I have once and for all overcome the ultimate fear – death. I wonder whose voice are you listening to today; is it the anxious voice in your head or that of your Father in Heaven who says: ‘Do not fear’? Amen.

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