In this Gospel passage, we rejoin Jesus during the first year of His public ministry. Jesus directs the disciples to keep their focus on God. He reminds them that those who can harm the body do not have ultimate power; God does. Persecution and suffering may not be avoided or prevented but Jesus’ reassures us that God is always and forever at our call to care for us and protect us.
Jesus uses a simple, mind-opening analogy to illustrate his point. His listeners knew that the cheapest life in the market was a small bird of the field, perhaps a sparrow. Yet, God’s providential care knows even when this smallest of birds dies. He is using here a rabbinic argument technique which compares a light matter to a heavy one. His idea here is to overcome fear and encourage the disciples, and us, to trust God.
From the moment we are born, we know fear – we squall at the change in our environment. The startle reflex is tested in a baby’s first pediatrician’s visit. Separation anxiety develops by 6 months and may raise its ugly head later in life feelings of abandonment. Over time we may grow to fear even those who are closest to us.
Jesus recognizes that fear may cause failure on our part. Jesus’ disciples, and we, courageously leave the security of home and family to follow a dream. As faithful followers of our “summons” to His call, may inevitably put us on a collision course with the allurements of the world. Jesus is starkly realistic about the threats we will face, at the same time he builds the case for why we should not let fear win out or hinder our ministry.
We see in the Gospels, how on the one hand, the disciples are granted remarkable powers to heal the sick, exorcise demons, cleanse lepers, even to raise the dead. But at the same time, Jesus denies the disciples money, extra clothes, or a staff to aid in climbing the ups and downs of life or to protect themselves from wolves. He even denies them a pair of sandals to shield their feet from rocks and stones, or if they travel the fields in Florida, sandspurs. They are to undertake their mission in complete vulnerability and dependence on God with an awareness that they go as “sheep in the midst of wolves.”
We know their stories: they faced arrests and beatings, hatred and persecution and opposition even from family members.
With great care and compassion Jesus names aloud the suffering to be endured and its causes. This is the first step in freeing them from the tenacious grip of fear. Benedict knew this, didn’t he? Remember what he says about receiving newcomers (chapter 58). Do not grant newcomers an easy entry … test the spirits, let them keep persistently knocking at the door four or five days … they should be clearly told the things of everyday living in community; all the hardships and difficulties that will lead to God … she, the newcomer, must be aware of what the Rule requires so that she may know what she is entering.”
It is clear in Jesus’ conversation with his disciples that the most important element in the sharing of the warnings and the loving reassurance lies in the integral relationship between the disciples and Jesus. And, between Benedict and the novice .. and it should be evident between our community and the Seeker.
Just as Jesus modeled the way for his disciple, we make a commitment to the newcomer, and to each other, to model Benedictine living. An example: A young boy, out for a walk with his father on a cold winter day, was scared to cross a frozen pond … afraid of falling through the ice. But then his Father offered to lead the way. Now the boy didn’t hesitate to go across the ice. The ice hadn’t become less frightening, but he was able to follow his father, trusting his father wouldn’t lead him to harm. He followed his father without fear across the ice. Jesus leads us; we lead each other; and we each help lead our Seekers.
As we sing in the Suscipe: “Upon me, O Lord, as you have promised, and I shall live, and do not disappoint me in my hope.”
~Reflection by Sister Roberta Bailey, OSB, Prioress