These were comforting words by President Franklin Roosevelt to the people when the US was entering WWII in 1941. Folks were afraid of what might happen. The imagination was running loose. In fact, fear has been one of the most common experiences all of us have shared. We are “afraid” of the future for probabilities that might be of harm to us.
One biblical example of fear that comes to mind is the account of the Annunciation. The angel Gabriel comes to Mary and tells her that she is to be the mother of Jesus. Wonderful things are said about Jesus. Early in the greeting, Gabriel tells Mary, “Do not be afraid…” But she was afraid. Afraid of what people might think of a pregnant unmarried teenager. But after the angel’s explanation regarding the fear, Mary accepted the task saying, in effect, “I’ll accept the Lords’ plan for me.” (Luke 1:26-38)
If we look at the Gospel reading for the 12th Sunday in Ordinary Time (Matthew 10:26-33) we note that “fear” is the principal topic of concern. The post-resurrectional appearance of Jesus to his chosen disciples has him greeting them with the phrase “Fear no one.” And since Jesus had been crucified for alleged criminal behavior, the disciples preferred to be in hiding for safety’s sake. Again, the fear was due because of the unknown. No one knew what the future might bring.
However, Jesus was ready to give his missionary discourse before he was about to return to heaven. Before his return, Jesus needed someone to carry on his message of justice, compassion, understanding, and forgiveness. His disciples would do it, but they had to have faith in both the message and themselves. Properly proclaiming the message depended on two things.
First. The disciples have to believe in themselves. They had to maintain the basic biblical idea that “God is with us.” (IMMANUEL=Hebrew for “God is with us.” The seasons of Advent and Christmas remind us of this.) If this belief is maintained then many things are possible, as we saw above in the case of Mary. “Belief” conquers “fear.”
Second. The disciples have to believe in the message. If others see that the disciples are proclaiming one things and doing another, they may have legitimate questions about the disciples’ motivation. In order to be believed we have to practice what we preach.
In fact, belief in the presence of “God with us” together with the belief in the effectiveness of Jesus’ message removes the fear that we may have of whatever may come in the future.
It may be well to remember that at the end of the Sunday Gospel alluded to above, Jesus tells his disciples, “Everyone who acknowledges me before others, I also will acknowledge before my Father in heaven. But whoever denies me before others, I will deny before my heavenly Father.” (Matthew 10:32-33)
What true follower of Jesus can be afraid of this?