Sometimes a message is so important that it must be told over and over again, repeated so that people will hear it, so that they will allow the message to take root inside them and bear fruit.
Do not be afraid! Jesus repeats this message time and again. It is a message those around him need to hear. It is a message all of us need to hear. Do not be afraid! This knocks the cobwebs from the dark corners of our lives.
Do not be afraid, Jesus tells the disciples late one night when he walks across the lake and climbs into their boat. Take heart! You don't have to struggle against this storm any more.
Do not be afraid, he tells the anxious, worried father whose child lies deathly sick. Only believe, and your daughter will get well; she'll be restored to you.
Do not be afraid, he tells disciples sitting in a circle round him. Not now, not ever! Your Father knows every last hair on your head, and he delights to give you the kingdom. Jesus repeats this message––because it's important, and because we find it hard to accept. He's aware that fear comes easy to us, as easy as breathing.
Today Jesus repeats this message. Do not be afraid! He repeats it as he sends out seventy of his disciples to prepare the way in every place he will visit.
These seventy––we are not given their names. They are not prominent, like John or Peter or Andrew. They are quiet, unassertive, ordinary folks. These seventy, a number that stands for wholeness and completion. These seventy represent all of us.
How would you feel if Jesus organized you into groups of two to go out into Northwest Arkansas and tell people about God’s love? Every week, just like those seventy disciples, we are sent forth to do just that – “let us go forth rejoicing in the power of the Spirit!” Power for what? “To be my witnesses,” Jesus said. We do this every week. On Sunday we gather to be fed with God’s word and the Eucharist and then sent forth once more.
The message we are to live out through our character and our actions may take us to unfamiliar places where we enter uninvited. And so we too need to hear what Jesus readily repeats: Do not be afraid! Today he does not simply say this, but gives us a short course in how not to be afraid, a road map to the kingdom.
There are four fears from which Jesus wants us free. The first is the fear of what other people might think about us. We are to heal the sick ones. We are to call down a blessing on all we meet. We are to increase wholeness and health throughout the world. Some will like what we do and support us. Others will not. These others will reject the gifts we offer. They may even scorn us.
There is deep brokenness in our world. When we're free from the fear of what people might think about us, then we recognize how everyone is broken, including ourselves. What others reveal to us may not be the glad truth of their existence, but the pain that boils and bubbles there, and that pain sometimes strikes out and we get bitten by it. Whether these others know us for who we are is not the point. What's important is whether we do something to bring God's love near to them.
The second fear that Jesus wants to free us from is the fear of failure. Jesus does not tell us to counter resistance to our good efforts simply by pushing harder in the same direction. He says that when people welcome us, we're to stay and do good among them, but when they do not welcome us, we're to get up and go elsewhere. In each case, we've brought God's kingdom near.
The public ministry of Jesus does not look like it comes to a successful end. What greater failure can there be than to be left alone on a cross to die? Yet he rises from this disgrace because there is nothing stronger than God’s love.
The third fear from which Jesus wants to free us is the fear of losing our possessions. Jesus tells the seventy not to take certain things they may think they need. The problem does not lie with the items themselves. The problem lies with what may be our attitude toward them. Lacking these things but wanting them may make us feel inadequate. Possessing such things may blunt our sense of urgency about service to the kingdom and may bring about separation between ourselves and others. Such things may seem too important to us. In this consumer culture we are even taught that what we have determines who we are. Insatiable desire becomes a virtue. But the way to the kingdom is different. We are released from the fear of not having enough. What's important is not what we own, or even what we abstain from owning, but whether we travel light, whether we are unattached to our possessions.
The last of the fears that Jesus wants to free us from is the fear of our own needs. Not once, but twice Jesus tells the seventy that in their travels they were to eat what was set before them. They are to acknowledge their need by eating in the company of their hosts.
We all have the same needs––among them food and shelter, affection and support, and a feeling of belonging. It's part of what it means to be human to admit our needs. It's part of what it means to follow Jesus, who was not afraid to seek hospitality and support, who was not afraid to be dependent on his heavenly Father.
Jesus wants us to be free. He releases us from every form of fear through this sacramental sharing in his life, this freedom feast we call the Holy Eucharist which simply means “giving thanks.”
During the week to come, when we are dispersed in so many directions, each of us may feel fear rising in our hearts in at least one of these forms. This fear will try to disrupt our mission to share God’s love. But if we listen, we will also hear Jesus telling us once again: Do not be afraid!