Do not be afraid - Jesus is our model in coping with anxiety

Homily for the Twelfth Sunday of Year A

by Fr. Tommy Lane

“Do not be afraid.” How good it is for someone who is worried to hear those words from Jesus. Jesus knew we needed to hear those words. “Do not be afraid.” Jesus, who was human as well as divine, knew that some of us need to be reminded again and again and again not to worry. So many times in the Gospels we hear Jesus asking us not to worry. Three times in today’s Gospel we hear Jesus saying, “Do not be afraid.”

  • Do not worry about the future of the kingdom of God because even if the kingdom is hidden and difficult to see now it will be revealed.

  • Do not worry about those who would make you martyrs by killing you because even if they kill your body they cannot kill your soul.

  • Therefore do not worry about acknowledging Jesus before others and he will acknowledge you before the heavenly Father.

And on many other occasions we hear Jesus asking us not to worry,

…do not worry and say, ‘What are we to eat?’ or ‘What are we to drink?’ or ‘What are we to wear?’ All these things the pagans seek. Your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom (of God) and his righteousness, and all these things will be given you besides. Do not worry about tomorrow; tomorrow will take care of itself. (Matt 6:31-34)

Jesus is a model for us in coping with anxiety and distress. There is a great lesson for us in how Jesus dealt with worry and distress in Gethsemane:

  1. He felt great inner pain; he felt his Passion would be too much for him, “My soul is sorrowful even to death.” (Matt 26:38)

  2. He acknowledged this pain before his Father, “My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me…”

  3. In prayer he found the strength to face his passion and was able to say, “not as I will, but as you will.” (Matt 6:39)

What was the remedy Jesus used to overcome worry and distress? Having faith in his heavenly Father and sharing the cause of his worry in prayer with the Father. We see a transformation in Jesus during his prayer. He began praying, “My soul is sorrowful even to death” (Matt 26:38) but when he concluded he prayed, “your will be done!” (Matt 26:42) That is what happens to us when we have faith in God and bring our anxieties to God in prayer. We should be transformed during prayer and receive strength from God to face what lies ahead. So when there are problems, have faith and pray! It is no surprise therefore that we hear Jesus rebuking the disciples when they are afraid during the storm because their faith is weak,

Suddenly a violent storm came up on the sea, so that the boat was being swamped by waves; but he was asleep. They came and woke him, saying, “Lord, save us! We are perishing!” He said to them, “Why are you terrified, O you of little faith?” Then he got up, rebuked the winds and the sea, and there was great calm. (Matt 8:24-26)

In our first reading the prophet Jeremiah also copes with a difficult life situation through faith in God and prayer, the people to whom he ministered rejected his preaching,

I hear the whisperings of many: “Terror on every side! Denounce! let us denounce him!” All those who were my friends are on the watch for any misstep of mine. (Jer 20:10)

But he had faith in God and trusted in God despite being in a very difficult situation.

But the LORD is with me, like a mighty champion: my persecutors will stumble, they will not triumph. (Jer 20:11)

Surely that strong faith and fervent prayer continued to support him in all his difficulties, especially at the end of his life as he was martyred like all the prophets before him.

At this time it doesn’t seem likely that we may be called to be martyrs by shedding our blood for our faith but in these times with so many distractions and temptations away from God and living by the Gospel we are called to be dry martyrs. By “dry martyr” I mean witnessing to Jesus without being asked to shed our blood. One of the priests, who had been chaplain at Emory University, gave an example during the Eucharistic Congress here in Atlanta today of what I call “dry martyrdom.”

When one of the female students at Emory University was out of town at the weekends with her team she didn’t go to Mass. Once she had a particularly powerful experience of God during prayer and really felt the love of God. She said to the coach that from then on when she was out of town with the team she needed time to go to Mass. He replied that he had been raised Catholic and he would also go to Mass.

What a simple act of witnessing to Jesus can do to help others. Whether it be for the dry martyrdom of witnessing to Jesus publicly by the way we live our lives, or coping with any of the problems life can throw at us, Jesus would say, as he does three times in today’s Gospel, “Do not be afraid.” Jesus in Gethsemane is our model in coping with the difficulties of life

  • “do not be afraid of them…What I say to you in the darkness, speak in the light” (Matt 10:26-27)

  • “do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul” (Matt 10:28)

  • “do not be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows. Everyone who acknowledges me before others I will acknowledge before my heavenly Father.” (Matt 10:31-32)

Copyright © Fr. Tommy Lane 2008

This homily was delivered in a parish in the Archdiocese of Atlanta.

More homilies for the Twelfth Sunday Year A

Declaring Ourselves for Jesus in the Presence of Others

Related Homilies: When there is division because of Jesus we take a stand for Jesus

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