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Sunday, November 1, 2020
Today’s Scripture Reading | Luke 11:53—12:12
When he went outside, the scribes and the Pharisees began to be very hostile toward him and to cross-examine him about many things, lying in wait for him, to catch him in something he might say.
Meanwhile, when the crowd gathered by the thousands, so that they trampled on one another, he began to speak first to his disciples, “Beware of the yeast of the Pharisees, that is, their hypocrisy. Nothing is covered up that will not be uncovered, and nothing secret that will not become known. Therefore whatever you have said in the dark will be heard in the light, and what you have whispered behind closed doors will be proclaimed from the housetops. “I tell you, my friends, do not fear those who kill the body, and after that can do nothing more. But I will warn you whom to fear: fear him who, after he has killed, has authority to cast into hell. Yes, I tell you, fear him! Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? Yet not one of them is forgotten in God’s sight. But even the hairs of your head are all counted. Do not be afraid; you are of more value than many sparrows. “And I tell you, everyone who acknowledges me before others, the Son of Man also will acknowledge before the angels of God; but whoever denies me before others will be denied before the angels of God. And everyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven; but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven. When they bring you before the synagogues, the rulers, and the authorities, do not worry about how you are to defend yourselves or what you are to say; for the Holy Spirit will teach you at that very hour what you ought to say.” (NRSV)
Learning to manage the relationship between fear and trust is part of our discipleship. To those Jesus calls “friends,” which may well be the crowd of thousands gathered to hear him and not just his disciples, Jesus says, “Don’t be afraid of those who kill the body.” That he feels the need to say this means that people are afraid of being killed.
That’s not surprising in a place where thousands were crucified publicly for resistance to the ruling powers. Put a toe out of line and be called a traitor. Treason, working against the established norms of the ruling power, was a crime punishable by death, as Jesus himself experienced.
There is something worse than physical death, Jesus teaches, and that is death of the soul. In the parallel teaching in Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus expands his message by saying, “Be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body” (Matthew 10:28). In other words, there is a greater power than the rulers of the world. If you should be afraid of any power, you should be afraid of that power. But instead of being afraid, Jesus says, trust that power.
We can trust that greater power of God because, although God’s power extends over the soul, God also loves and values us so much (more than many sparrows) that we need not be afraid.
So live, and act, in such a way that your soul stays intact. Do the right thing, so your soul is in alignment with God’s heart. Speak up when you need to speak up. Don’t be afraid of those who threaten physical harm. Trust in the God to whom our souls belong. Notice and acknowledge the human fears, but lean into the holy trust.
God of Life, free me of the impulse to protect my own well-being by going along with the status quo. Give me courage to fear wrongdoing, whether by commission or omission, more than I fear pain. Amen.
Written by Nanette Sawyer, Associate Pastor for Discipleship and Small Group Ministry
Reflection and prayer © Fourth Presbyterian Church
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