In the Gospel of Matthew (10: 26-33), Jesus talks about the right kind of fear we should have as we live out and preach his Gospel mainly with our lives. It can be understood better if taken together with what is written in the preceding verses (Matthew 10: 16-23).
In them, Jesus conveys the idea of the explosive energy of the Gospel. For Jesus, the Good News packs such power that we should live it out and preach it without reliance on human resources (cf. Matthew 10: 9-10).
We should be so impelled by its content that we propose it to others, boldly, even disregarding our safety. As true disciples of his, Jesus expects us to be so possessed and driven by the Holy Spirit that we dare to operate like mindless sheep among rabid, hungry wolves. For Jesus, the spiritual and moral “muscle” of the Gospel is such that we should count not on our human skills but, rather, on what the Holy Spirit inspires us to say at the right time. Then Jesus goes on to forewarn us about fierce persecution and rejection from all sides, including from within our own family. Immediately after that, the Lord tells us not to fear anyone who opposes us in our effort to preach the Gospel with our lives. Jesus truly levels with us, not hiding what we can expect if we live out the Gospel and we dare to preach it in a hostile setting.
Now, is Jesus exaggerating the power of the Gospel, thus possibly scaring us away from our assigned task of bearing witness to him and to his Gospel?
We find the answer in St. Paul’s list of what he endured for the Gospel (cf. 2 Corinthians 11: 23-28). Thanks to Paul’s testimony (Romans 1:16), if we, too, truly love Jesus, we can live by the following unusual definition of the Gospel:
For I am not ashamed of the Gospel. It is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes: for Jew first, and then Greek.
If we are sold on the unique power of the Gospel, the Lord Jesus would add: “So have no fear of them:”
Whatever might have fed our fear and made us reluctant to preach the Gospel will fail in stymieing the truth about anything and anyone; it will also be unable to stop the revealing of secret plans, sinister intentions, and evil designs. It is so because nothing can stand in the way of the irreversible, unstoppable unfolding of the Father’s plan of salvation announced by means of the Gospel.
The One we should fear is he who can create a whole universe from nothing simply by uttering his word of command and can undo everything and everyone with equal ease and lightning speed.
The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom; prudent are all who live by it. (Psalm 111:10)
We must take Jesus’ order to bear witness to his Gospel with the same healthy and salvific fear we would have while standing at the foot of the “Three Gorges Dam” in Hubei Province, China, the largest in the world or while looking down from atop the Burj Khalifa tower in Dubai. These two settings should be more than enough to convince us of our insignificance. But, in our relationship with God the Father, healthy and salvific fear must be augmented exponentially by the superbly accurate care he takes in monitoring our wellbeing ahead of the myriads of birds in the sky and even in keeping track of the exact number of strands of hair on our head.
However, he is also telling us what we can expect if we clam up and crawl into the comfortable niche of disengagement and self-absorption. Reticence, unwillingness to be bothered, aloofness, refusal to live out and, then, to preach the Gospel with our life are not wise, prudent options. We are ordered not be afraid of those who oppose us as preachers of the Gospel because the One who is in us is greater than the one who inspires them (cf. 1 John 4: 4).
We are told to have no fear of those who are fixated on making our life miserable and on destroying our body, because our Father cares for us with unmatched solicitude. We should rather have a healthy and salvific fear of him. That fear is to generate in us wisdom and sufficient courage to avoid what is reserved for those who do not acknowledge the Lord before others. Firmly grounded, we acknowledge that our human limitations are such that they force us to manage our energies, emotional resources, and inner drives to concentrate on what will, eventually, allow us admittance into heaven.
This concept is simple enough for everyone to understand. Yet, not having the right type of fear of the One who can destroy both soul and body in Gehenna, some might take Jesus’ warning lightly with irreparable, disastrous consequences.
Everyone who acknowledges me before others I will acknowledge before my heavenly Father. But whoever denies me before others, I will deny before my heavenly Father. (Matthew 10:32-33)
Jesus could not be more explicit. Hence, we beg the Holy Spirit to remove from us all traces of fear, indifference and disengagement and enkindle the dying embers of our love for Jesus into a steady flame of love so that, at the end of our earthly life we may be acknowledged by him before the Father.