Here are excerpts from a homily I gave yesterday, Tuesday in the Fifteenth Week in Ordinary Time. The readings were Isaiah 7: 1-9 and Matthew 11: 20-24.
One of the biggest and most common temptations that people have to battle is fear. Jesus addressed this temptation often in his teachings, challenging people to be like the birds of the air and lilies of the field.
The first reading is a story of fear set in the 7th Century before the birth of Christ. David's kingdom has been split into North and South, Israel and Judah. The king of Israel--Pekah--and the king of another country named Aram--Rezin--have created an alliance against a powerful neighbor, Assyria. They want King Ahaz of Judah to join them in attacking Assyria. When he refuses, they attack him. How did Ahaz and the people of Jerusalem handle the impending attack? In very descriptive terms, "the heart of the king and the heart of the people trembled, as the trees of the forest tremble in the wind." They are overcome with fear.
God sends the prophet Isaiah to them and tells him to say: "Take care you remain tranquil and do not fear; let not your courage fail before these two stumps of smoldering brands...." He tells them to take heart.
The passage that immediately follows this one in Isaiah (which is not included in this reading) is the famous "Immanuel" passage of Isaiah where God tells the prophet to have Ahaz ask for a sign. Ahaz is afraid, though he excuses his refusal to ask by saying that he does not want to "tempt the Lord." But God wants to give him a sign and it is this: "the virgin shall be with child, and bear a son, and shall name him Immanuel." When Matthew quotes this prophetic word in his Gospel he says that this name "means 'God is with us.'" God was with Ahaz and God is with us in an even more marvelous way. Jesus is "God with us" who gives us courage by giving us a new heart, his own. God has a heart for us and he asks us to take it.
In the Gospel Jesus challenges the people in "the towns where most of his mighty deeds had been done." They had not believed, accepted him, nor been converted. Warning them with "Woe to you," Jesus practices tough love and calls on them to have faith in him. His warning is an echo of the last words in the first reading: "Unless your faith is firm you shall not be firm."
At one time or another, especially when things get rough in our lives and we encounter trials and conflicts, we are tempted by fear and worry. It is at those times that we are called to exercise faith which, like any of the virtues, is a spiritual muscle that requires regular exercise to maintain and develop and grow.
I've heard that Blessed Teresa of Calcutta once quoted the cliche, "God will never give you more than you can handle." Then she added, "I just wish God didn't trust me so much!"
God does trust us. Why? Because God sees his grace at work in us. He sees the image of his Son in us. He sees the Heart that he gave us through his Son. It's the Heart that we take every time we receive Holy Communion. Take (the Sacred) Heart and be firm!