Reflection on the Gospel-12th Sunday in Ordinary Time Year A
-Veronica Lawson RSM
Many of those who once looked through the barbed-wire fences of Australia’s detention centres carry personal stories of fear of persecution. One such story, the story of Najaf Mazari, is beautifully narrated by Najaf and Robert Hillman in their joint work, The Rugmaker of Mazar-e-Sharif. Najaf is an Afghani Hazara who suffered persecution and torture at the hands of the Taliban. He escaped to Australia via Indonesia in 2002. After some time in detention, he established a rug making business in suburban Melbourne. He was reunited with his wife Hakeema and daughter Maria in 2008 and became an Australian citizen in June 2014.
Some first century Christian groups, including Matthew’s community, were a bit like the Afghani Hazaras and Syrian or Iraqi Christians in that they are persecuted simply on account of who they are vis-à-vis those who seek exclusive political and cultural power. They have every reason to fear bodily harm and even death, as suffered by Jesus and his followers. Jesus himself experienced fear in the face of his impending suffering and political execution. Yet Jesus tells his disciples, not once but three times, not to fear those who kill the body.
How are these words to be understood? To return to the story of Najif: the Taliban had power to destroy his body, but no power over his spirit. A man of deep faith, supported by a family who sacrificed their own comfort and placed their trust in God (Allah), he survived against the most incredible odds. Even if he had died in the effort to find freedom, his faith in the fullness of life with God would remain, in contrast with the bullying power of the Taliban who could kill the body but not an indomitable spirit.
Trust in God is at the heart of Jesus’ response to suffering. The disciples are sent to proclaim in the marketplace or from the “housetops” the gospel they have received in the security of the household. If they proclaim the gospel and acknowledge Jesus, he will in turn “acknowledge” them before God “in heaven”. They can expect rejection and humiliation. This is not to deter them from their mission. They are not to give up the struggle or capitulate in the face of persecution. Like all of God’s creatures, including the sparrows, they are precious in God’s eyes and will not be abandoned. On the contrary, even the hairs on their heads are numbered by God. Trust in God is the appropriate response to suffering endured for the sake of God’s empire as opposed to the empire of Rome. Trust in God does not take away the pain. As we move into this most extraordinary of Ordinary Times, we join with asylum seekers, refugees, the unemployed and the underemployed, with African American communities and especially, in this context, with the First Peoples of this country, for the justice that is their right. They are precious in God’s eyes. They are precious in our eyes and must not be abandoned.