Jeremiah 20:10-13 Romans 5:12-15 Matthew 10:26-33 EVERY religion carries within it the danger of "otherworldliness," and Christianity is not exempt from this tendency; but Christianity has no excuse for it, since ours is an "incarnational" religion. We believe, that is to say, in a God who is deeply and passionately involved in the nuts and bolts of human existence, just as it is lived, not in one who offers us heaven as a palliative to the ills of our world: Christianity is not, . you see, a comfortable religion.
Certainly today's three readings are fearless in facing the fact that life with God can be decidedly uncomfortable. Jeremiah, from whom the first reading is taken, spent a good deal of his ministry feeling himself trapped between the upper and the nether stone, between the certainty that, God was calling him to be his spokesman and the alarming things that people did to him when he uttered the words he had to speak.
, Today's reading actually finds Jeremiah in more confident mood than he sometimes displays; for in the middle of his rather despondent view of the situation around him, there is a massive proclamation of faith: "but the Lord is at my side, a mighty hero."
And, by his own rather gloomy standards, Jeremiah turns positively lyrical at the end: "Sing to the Lord, praise the Lord, for he has delivered the soul of the needy from the hands of evil men." And there it is: not that there are no problems in life, but that the problems are not the whole story.
The second reading picks up Paul's letter to the Romans, more or less where we left it last February. It is one of the more obscure passages of an epistle that is not noted for the simplicity of its argumentation; but it is clear at least that Paul is facing the two grimmest facts of life, those of sin and death, well aware that they exist, and not troubling to deny it, but emphasising that they do not have the last word.
Paul sketches a kind of balance, between what Adam did and what Jesus did: Adam's foolish disobedience explains our present plight, but Jesus' loving obedience had a markedly more powerful effect: "the gift itself considerably outweighed the fall."
The same combination of realism about the problems of life and fundamental optimism is to be found also in today's gospel. As a matter of fact, the combination is already there in the opening sentence of Jesus' teaching: "do not be afraid." For only an optimist can say that, but only a realist sees the need to say it. Jesus is emphatic that things will not always be as they are at present: "for everything now hidden will be made clear."
And the expression "do not be afraid" is given greater point, for Jesus now refers it to "those who can kill the body." Unless there is a God, such people are most definitely to be feared, because nothing more fearful can be imagined. To Jesus, however, who can name God "Father," there are far more important worries, namely the possible destruction of "both body and soul in hell."
The heart of the message is that, awful though things may be, nothing is quite as bad as it may seem, because every human being is incredibly precious, for they originate from the one whom it is proper to address, and regard, as "Father."
So it is a thoroughly "thisworldly" teaching that Jesus gives, but grounded in a confidence about another realm, and the disciple of Jesus needs to live in both dimensions: "so if anyone declares himself for me in the presence of men, I will declare myself for him in the presence of my Father in heaven."
There is realism here : it is no joke speal8fig up for Jesus in the world (or, for that matter, being Jesus in the world) — but nor, on the other hand, is it a waste of time. The gospel is in the end a work of optimism.
Nicholas King SJ