Friday of the Fourteenth Week in Ordinary Time
I can't count the number of times the following has happened to me: I'm afraid to go to a party because I don't know anyone, or I'm afraid to try something new, because it's scary, and so on. When I was a kid, I would have given in to that fear - as indeed, my own daughters struggle with their fears. The adult in me knows by now that most of the time facing my fears leads to great joy - new friends discovered, exciting new things happening.
Today's scriptures speak directly to our encounters with fear and the ways God teaches us not to be afraid, but to be open to new experiences. Genesis 46:1-7, 28-30 tells the beginning of Israelites' journey to Egypt. At first, Jacob doesn't seem to be afraid, but then we see that he is praying pretty hard. Recall that Jacob wants to go to Egypt because he wants to see his long-lost son, but still, he is stymied. (Maybe he has that feeling in the pit of his stomach like the one I get when I'm about to try something new....) God's response to Jacob indicates that God knows Jacob is afraid. But with God's promises in hand, Jacob goes to Egypt and is rewarded by seeing his son.
A key point to understanding this story, though, is that while Jacob's reunion with his son is great, the fact that the tribes will settle in Egypt is a very, very, mixed event, because Egypt is where they will be slaves. For Jewish readers of this text, and for us too, we should be reading this with a bit of trepidation - how can God send Jacob and his sons into this morass?
Then we get to the gospel reading (Matthew 10:16-23) where Jesus has a similar message. Life for the disciples will be tinged with both joy and sorrow; people will hate them; they will be sheep among wolves.
I think the best way to read these scriptures is to recognize that God is not really sending people to their doom, so much as, life is like this, especially so since we Christians have the audacity to proclaim that Jesus is Lord to an agnostic world. Jesus does not always promise a rosy future or a good outcome. But he does promise to be with us and he does promise that the world's bleak outlook is not the final answer. Fear is always present, but joy and love are too - and are more interesting and satisfying and shine brighter than fear does, if we let it.
Today, let us reflect on those places in our lives and our world where fear seems to reign, and encounter Christ's light in those places!
- Jana M. Bennett