A fourth grader once asked his teacher how much the earth weighed. The teacher looked up the answer and then said, “Six thousand million, million tons.” The boy thought for a minute and then asked, “Is that with or without people?” Viewed from one perspective, it might very well seem that people don’t really matter very much. After all, we are but microscopic inhabitants of a tiny planet orbiting a relatively obscure star in a small galaxy among the billions and billions of stars and galaxies that make up creation. Yet, from the viewpoint of a person, other people do make a difference. Other people matter, their opinions matter, and their opinions of us matter.
Other people can make us feel apprehensive. Right now in our society, people are having to be extremely concerned about the words they use. And why is that? Well, because people are getting fired and sued and attacked because they are not being careful with their words. Therefore we are understandably apprehensive with others. Of the most common fears, fears about what others may think of us consistently rank among the highest. People are afraid of other people’s disapproval or of criticism or being made fun of by others. We want approval, acceptance and validation. We want to be thought of highly by others. All of us want to be liked. Fear of others is not a modern phenomenon. People have always been concerned about what others think about them. In our gospel reading Jesus says not once, not twice, but three times to not be afraid. The context of our gospel is this, Jesus is sending out his disciples on their first mission trip and the disciples are understandably nervous.
The very first fear he addresses for his disciples is their fear of what people think about them. They are worried about what people will say about them. It is good to note that Jesus does not tell them not to worry and that everyone will love them. No, Jesus points out to his disciples that people, important people have attacked and slandered him. Jesus tells the disciples that if the religious leaders have called him, Jesus, Beelzebul, that is, the Lord of the Flies which has the connotation of the Lord of Manure or the Lord of Poop because the poop draws flies; Jesus says if they have called me this; guess what, people are going to call you bad names too!
Yes, they will call you bad names if you are my disciples. They may even make up bad things to say about you. But Jesus tells them, do not be afraid of them because nothing that is covered up will remain covered. Anything that is a secret will become known. In other words, if what is being said about you is a lie, at some point, people will find out that it was a lie. Jesus tells his disciples that the truth must come out. What he teaches them now must be told to everyone. He tells them not to worry about what others say about them.
Next Jesus addresses the disciples’ concern for their physical well-being. They and we are worried about what other people can do to us we are worried about our safety. This talk of defunding the police departments has raised concerns that the U.S. is reverting to the time of the old west, where people had to defend themselves from outlaws. People who do not have weapons in their home are now talking about buying weapons in order to protect their loved ones and themselves. Still this danger is to the general public, not simply to us because we are Christians. Yet throughout the world this is not the case. In many countries our lives would be in danger because we are Christians. Jesus warned his disciples about this sort of danger. Throughout history and up unto even now, people have been killed for believing in Jesus. According to the Vatican over 100,000 people a year are killed simply because of their faith in Jesus. This means that in 2019 about every 6 minutes a man, woman, or child was killed for believing in Jesus. But he said, “Do not fear those who can kill the body but cannot kill the soul.” Jesus said people can only hurt our bodies; they can only hurt us physically. But God is the one who is in charge of your body and soul. We need to be concerned about what God thinks; we need to be concerned about getting His approval. We as Christians, as disciples of Jesus need to remember that our lives right now are not all that is. Our lives here are on earth are only the beginning.
So Jesus tells us not to be afraid. People may call us names and try to hurt us. But they can only call us names; they can only hurt us physically. And the reason, the good reason why we should not be afraid of them or afraid of what they can do to us, or even afraid in general is that God, our God, is keeping track of all that is going on. Jesus points out that God is even aware of all the little sparrows and what happens to each of them. God is aware of even the hairs on your head. Now the average human head has about 100,000 hairs. Now granted, some have a lot less. Did you know that the average woman with a thick head of hair will lose up to 100 hairs a day? The average man who shaves every day by the time he is 65 will have removed 23 feet of beard! And God keeps track of all that hair! Why? because He cares about our every minute detail. And because God cares for us, and because He has our ultimate good in mind, we can trust in Him and not be afraid. The Apostle Peter once wrote and said, “Throw all your cares and fears upon God!” Why? Because He cares for you!! God Almighty, God ruler of the universe, cares about you!
The writer Philip Yancey once told about a visit he had with his mother. His mother was a widow; Philip’s father had died when he had been about a year old. They spent the afternoon together looking through a box of old photos. A certain picture of him as an eight-month-old baby caught his eye. Tattered and bent, it looked too banged up to be worth keeping, so he asked her why, with so many other better baby pictures of him at the same age, why she had kept this one.
His mother paused and said, “I kept this photo as a memento, because during your father’s illness it had been fastened to his iron lung.” During the last four months of his life, Yancey’s father lay on his back, completely paralyzed by polio at the age of twenty-four, encased from the neck down in a huge, cylindrical breathing unit. With his two young sons banned from the hospital due to the severity of his illness, he had asked his wife for pictures of her and their two boys. Because he was unable to move even his head, the photos had to be jammed between metal knobs so that they hung within view above him–the only thing he could see. The last four months of his life were spent looking at the faces he loved.
Philip Yancey writes, “I have often thought of that crumpled photo, for it is one of the few links connecting me to the stranger who was my father. Someone I have no memory of, no sensory knowledge of, spent all day, every day thinking of me, loving me. The emotions I felt when my mother showed me the crumpled photo were the very same emotions I felt when I first believed in a God of love. Someone is there who loves me.
Jesus tells us not to be afraid of what other people may think of you. Don’t be afraid of their opinions. Don’t be afraid of what can happen to you. Don’t be afraid—period, because we are loved by God and God is more important than everybody. God cares about even the smallest detail of our lives. Don’t be afraid because what happens here is only temporary. We have an eternal home with God! Most of our life is yet to come. Therefore let us instead of fear, choose courage; let us choose confidence, let us choose joy; because God Almighty, God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit, cares about and loves us. Amen