The all-important context for today’s gospel (Matt 10:26-33) is the missionary instruction that Jesus gives to the twelve apostles. Jesus is firm in his declaration that persecution and division will be their lot. This will come from “outsiders” who do not accept Jesus, and even “insiders” within their own families (as well as those who claim to be followers of Jesus but still believe and live like pagans). Not once does Jesus hint that being his disciple will be an easy task.
Three times in today’s short gospel Jesus tells the apostles not to be afraid. He wants them to focus on their soul, not their body. You can’t be an instrument of God if you are constantly living in fear of danger to your body. And only God can kill the soul.
Then he turns to simple images, so that his listeners will get the point. God knows exactly how many hairs you have on your head, whether many or few. Not only that, he knows what is happening even before a dying sparrow hits the ground. The point? God cares about everything, and especially he cares about each of us! The incarnation is proof of that! This is why Jesus can say three times, “do not be afraid”!
This is the same message he gave the Old Testament prophets, so that they could be his instruments. For example, to Jeremiah he said, “My opponents will stumble because the Lord is at my side (Jer 1:8). In many places in the gospel Jesus reminds his listeners that the prophets had been persecuted (an illustration is in the First Reading, Jer 20:10-13). Now he tells the apostles that they can expect the same thing.
The message continues to be true for any disciple thereafter: to be a follower of the way, the truth, and the life means that you can expect to be treated just as Jesus and the prophets were treated. It may not be an easy task, but you have Jesus with you at all times for support.