13th Sunday Year B
Be not afraid.
St John, the beloved disciples of our Lord, wrote, “There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear” (1 Jn 4:18). My dear brothers and sisters, do you harbour fear? The world has much to be afraid of. There are many in the world who strive to attain power, wealth and possessions. Their quests continue even to the extent that the quests have become unhealthy, causing them to become selfish, self-centred, irrational and alienating them from families, friends and the community. Yet their quests continue unabated. Why? Because they are insecure. The truth is, “fear of missing out” (FOMO) is one of the greatest sins throughout history, especially in this secular world. And this fear does not just inflict the unbelievers. It is equally inflicted upon believers. Fear inflicts you and me.
It is easy to give lips services to the contrary. Do you know that the phrase “be not afraid” is the most commonly repeated phrase in the Bible? According to one source, the phrase is quoted in the Old Testament for more than 100 times and in the New Testament for 44 times (see https://catholic-resources.org/Bible/HaveNoFear.htm). It is easy to rattle off the words of St John, that “perfect love casts out fear”; or any of the 100 times “be not afraid” appears in the Bible. It is equally easy to lay claim that as Christians, with faith and love, we have nothing to fear. But let us ask ourselves honestly, do I truly believe this in my heart? Let us be truthful and ask ourselves. Am I afraid? Do I suffer from FOMO? Do I only help others only when my own needs and safety are secured? The truth is, many of us are afraid. The pandemic of fear inflicts many of us. Not only are we afraid, we are also afraid to admit that we are afraid. So we hide our fear under some pretexts, pretending it is not fear that motivates our actions.
The First Reading this week recalls the temptation of Adam and Eve. The author wrote, “the dominion of Hades is not on earth” (verse 1:14) and that “God created us for incorruption” (verse 2:23). What do these verses mean? It means that when God created humankind in His image and likeness, He created us to be immortal like him. The First Reading further explains that death was brought upon the world by the devil’s envy. The devil is the prince of envy. He was envious of God and rebelled against Him. Then the devil saw how God have created human being and given him a body, and through the body, God shares his power of creation with human beings through human procreation. The devil was again envious. So he instilled fear into Adam and Eve. He enticed them with the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Fearful of missing out, Adam and Even succumbed to the devil’s temptation, disobeyed God and brought death upon themselves. (See Gen 3:1-6)
Fast forward to the present time. The world has ben plagued by the COVID virus. We have been blessed by the rapid response of the medical science with the simultaneous development of multiple vaccines. But many of us are in fear of the COVID vaccines. Let us examine the facts. We know that from history that mass vaccination programmes have eliminated many dreadful and deadly disease such as small pox. We know that vaccines work by herd immunity; and through herd immunity, even those who are not vaccinated are protected from the virus. We know that there are members of our community, the most vulnerable, who for medical reasons genuinely cannot receive the vaccine. We know that some countries in the world, like Israel, are approaching herd immunity, that vaccination are limiting the spread of the virus significantly. When travelling is open again, for protection of their population, it would be reasonable for countries to limit visitors to those who have been vaccinated. Similarly, it would also be reasonable for facilities such as aged care homes to limit visitors and employments to those who have been vaccinated. Furthermore, we know that like most medical interventions, vaccines have side effects – from the very common symptoms like headaches to the very rare conditions like blood clots. On the subject of blood clots, we know that in the case of the AstraZeneca vaccine commonly used in Australia and many parts of the world, it affects 1 in 250000. We know that with timely intervention, blood clots are often non-fatal. We also know that we risk ourselves to similar blood clot condition each time we get into a plane, about 1 in 6000 flights, about 8000 times more likely compared to the AstraZeneca vaccine.
Yet many of us, including many Christians, are afraid of the vaccine. We use excuses like COVID is not spreading in our Australian community, so I will not be vaccinated. We say that because I am not planning to travel, I will not be vaccinated. We say that it is my basic human rights to not receive the vaccine; yet in the same breadth, I oppose the so-called “vaccine passport” – that I have the rights to visit anywhere I like, work anywhere I like, even though I have not been vaccinated. I ignore the fact that by my actions and beliefs, I am exposing the most vulnerable in my community to the risk of COVID. In truth, the real reason for this irrationality is fear. In my selfishness, I forgot about my Christian duty to my brothers and sisters. Afraid to acknowledge my fear, I hide under various pretexts.
The First Reading this week tells us that we brought death upon the world by our sins. But Jesus redeemed us from death by His own death. My brothers and brothers, it is time to ask ourselves: Am I afraid of death? Do I truly have faith in God? Do I truly trust God? Do I trust that even in death, God’s providence is truly presence in my life? Continuing on the message of death from the First Reading, the Gospel tells the story of Jesus raising Jairus’ daughter. We read that some people came and said to Jesus and Jairus, “Your daughter is dead. Why trouble the teacher any further?” (verse 35) These are the ones without faith. They do not believe that even in death and sufferings, God’s providence can be manifested. Just as many of us are afraid of the risks and side effects of the COVID vaccine. To those of us who live in fear, if we are truly open to Him, Jesus seeks to free us by these words, “Do not fear, only believe” (verse 36).
The virtue of faith is further revealed in the story of the woman with haemorrhage. Jesus was among a crowd. The woman came behind Jesus, touched his cloak and was healed. Jesus sensed this and asked, “Who touched my clothes?” (verse 30). His disciples thought that to be an odd question, as Jesus was walking among a crowd and many people would have come into physical contact with his clothes (verse 31). Even though many would have touched Jesus’ cloak, only the woman received healing. Thus, when Jesus asked who has touched his clothes, he is in fact asking, “Who of great faith has touched my clothes”? Indeed, it is through her faith that the woman was healed. That is why Jesus he said to the woman, “your faith has made you well” (verse 34). Do I have faith? Do I believe that my faith will make me well?
Finally, for those of us truly gifted with faith, we have a duty to assured our brothers and sisters who are afraid. We have a duty to say to them, in the words of St John, “perfect love casts out fear”. Just as Jesus administered to the disadvantaged, we are asked to administer to others in the same way. Truly, fear-conquering faith is a gift from God. As the Second Reading explained, this is about sharing our God-given gifts with others – faith, speech, knowledge, utmost eagerness, and love (verse 7). “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.” (Jn 3:16) This is an act of extreme generosity, that Jesus suffered and died so as to share his divinity with you and me (c.f. verse 9). Such is the power of communion – what Jesus shares with me, I now share with my brothers and sisters. It is through this communion that we help each other in growing our fear-conquering faith; as we journeyed toward our spiritual home in heaven, where suffering, death and fear will be banished for all eternity. May the peace of Jesus be with you, my dear friends.