Fear No One!
Just today I listened to an NPR radio program on how to deal with fear and anxiety because of the Covid-19 virus and epidemic. Fear is one of the most persuasive, or powerful, motivating forces in the human experience. It seems from the time that we are born we learn to fear the world round us, certainly to fear the stranger, and sometimes even those closest to us. Unfortunately, fear can be used as a tactic by political leaders, those in any supervisory role, and even towards one another when we want to get something done ‘our way’. If three people say something affirming to us in one day, but one person ‘chews us out’, the chewing out will stick with us. That is the way fear also operates…it clings to us. The feeling of hurt will linger for a while until we are able to move on…but oftentimes such movement does not come easy.
Prophet-Jeremiah describes, in our first reading, the problems that obeying God has caused him. He is filled with fear. He becomes the object of ridicule: “All those who were my friends are on the watch for any misstep of mine.” The people think that he does not know what he is talking about. In any case, his compulsion to preach the message given him, outweighs the trouble it has caused him. He cannot extinguish or even contain the passion within himself. This is a great example of how human fear can be overcome with Gods help. Jeremiah is drawing on divine help…grace…to get him to see these tense situations differently. It is when he sees God as an ally that he finds new courage and conviction for preaching his message. This prophet has been a personal hero for me, by inspiring me to speak to the feelings of frustration, exhaustion, hurt, exasperation and even anger that parishioners have shared with me in their time of need.
Jesus speaks directly to the issue of fear that His disciples might encounter along their ways. He knew that their leaving home, family, and friends, would mean giving up known security for unknown and maybe a fear-filled ministry. Why? Because faithfully proclaiming and practicing gospel values inevitability would put them on a collision course not only with civil and religious leaders, but also with those closest to them. This is why in today’s gospel-lesson Jesus says several times: “Fear no one”, “And do not be afraid of those who want to kill the body”, “So, do not be afraid: you are worth more than many sparrows.” He is repeating the point that all His disciples (them and us) are to be fearless as His disciples. “That’s easier said than done Jesus”, is what I would tell Him. He would respond to me like the prophet-Jeremiah, that the basis for fearlessness is knowledge that God is with me and He knows what I can accomplish if I trust Him. We are reassured that in Gods eyes we are of great worth.
A Dominican Friar-Priest from England recently wrote that Face Book introduced a new ‘reaction emoji’ called Care. It is a smiley hugging a heart, it is on my Title line above. As Christians we know that God is Love (1 John 4:8,16), yet somehow Face Book’s love emoji (just a heart) strikes me as less expressive of God than the Care emoji. There is something about the way that the Care face smiles, scrunches up its eyes, and presses the heart close to itself, to me that illustrates God. Although, this might not be everyone’s image of God!
Our only fear must be “fear of the Lord” which is a deep humility before God the Almighty Creator, not because we imagine He wants to hurt us but because in His love He has given us a terrifying opportunity to return or reject that love. St. Peter, having run away from the crucifixion, was reestablished in love by the Risen Christ and then strengthened the other disciples with these words: (1 Peter 5:6-7 )“Humble yourselves therefore under the almighty hand of God, that in due time He may exalt you. Cast all your cares on Him, for He cares about you.” The answer to fear, is that God is always with us. Our Advent word: Emmanuel comes to mind. It means that He is present in the world in general but is deeply rooted in each of our hearts and lives individually. Therefore, Fear no one!
God cares about you and so do I!