“Do not be afraid.” Lk 12:32
Four words: “Do not be afraid.”
Four words: the keystone for any of us who are followers of Jesus Christ.
Four words: the centerpiece of the belief system for we who profess the victorious resurrection of Our Lord, and who believe in the promise of eternal life.
And yet …
Christian people today continue to respond to demands to “be afraid.” In some instances, more than simply afraid, “be terrified!”
Too often, we are being told, even by some of the leaders of our society:
Be afraid of unseen powers who are out to get you. Be afraid of people who don’t dress like you or pray like you or talk like you. Be afraid of your government, your police, your neighbors. Be afraid of everything.
Now, sadly and sinfully, we are being told by certain leaders of our government, to be afraid of people with dark skin; be afraid of people who want to “invade” our country; be afraid of people of a faith other than Christianity; be afraid of … You can almost fill in the blank.
One preacher put it this way: “Faith is too often cynically used by some to embrace fear.” Fear mongering has now become acceptable, even preferred!
And, far too often, we believe these dire warnings. We become frightened. Even terrified.
Particularly during a time when political parties and candidates are desperate to win elections, would-be leaders too often stoop to the lowest level of civility: intentionally frightening people; scaring them; predicting doom and gloom at every turn; promising “salvation” from all the horrible nightmarish chaos they can possibly dream up.
In stark contrast to such scare tactics, Jesus offers another view:
a God who is our loving Father; a Spirit who guides us through our darkest hours; a Son who enters into our human experience of suffering and death – and rises victoriously!
In the words of Fr. Gregory Boyle, in his powerful book, Barking to the Choir: The Power of Radical Kinship, “God doesn’t want anything ‘from’ us, only ‘for’ us … only this holy longing to free us from terror and anxiety.”
Listen to these words of Jesus from today’s gospel with a modern translation from The Bible In Contemporary Language:
“What I’m trying to do here is get you to relax, not be so preoccupied with getting so you can respond to God’s giving. People who don’t know God and the way he works fuss over these things, but you know both God and how he works. Steep yourself in God-reality, God-initiative, God-provisions. You’ll find all your everyday human concerns will be met. Don’t be afraid of missing out. You’re my dearest friends! The Father wants to give you the very kingdom itself.”
Fear is a normal human emotion. It’s a gift given to us to help us avoid tragic and fatal consequences. This is a “wise worry” that alerts us to real danger.
But there is another kind of fear that too often takes its place: neurotic fear.
Neurotic fear is toxic and harmful – the kind of fear that makes us forget God’s gorgeous pledge: “You’re my dearest friends.”
Neurotic fear is the kind of fear that one psychiatrist calls a “disease of the imagination.” By that he means that neurotic fear “can be a scavenger, roaming the corners of your mind, feeding on anything, never leaving you alone.”
It’s “insidious, like a virus …. It infiltrates your mind, it diminishes your ability to enjoy your family, your friends, your physical being …. It undermines your ability to work, to love, and to play.”
I would also add: It undermines your ability to pray and to trust – even to trust God.
The bottom line is this:
Fear – neurotic fear, paralyzing fear – can become so powerful in our lives that it can take us hostage. It can enslave us. It can even get us to embrace the hideous idolatry of white supremacy, along with the savage need to dominate and terrorize.
And this is precisely what Jesus addresses in today’s gospel.
What Jesus is concerned about here is what he sees is our utmost fear:
That we won’t have enough – enough love, enough admiration, enough success, enough money, enough power.
That’s why Jesus offers us this advice:
Don’t let your worry and anxiety get in the way of what you are truly all about as people of faith.
Don’t let your fear make you into a person who is passive, submissive and easily seduced into embracing the evils of racism and hate-mongering.
Don’t let your fear keep you from awakening your faith to the needs of people around you – all people regardless of their inherent differences.
Instead, to borrow the old Boy/Girl Scout motto, we are called to not allow fear or worry to get in the way of our need to “Be Prepared.”
Be prepared like the servant who is awaiting the master’s return.
Be prepared to have the lamps lit and the door open for Christ to enter our lives.
Be prepared to give our time, our talents, our hearts to spread the ideal of the reign of God on this earth.
Be prepared so that fear will not take us captive and hold us back from becoming the faithful servant who delivers the food, who tends to the sick, who brings caring and healing and hope to those who are desperate.
Four words: “Do not be afraid.”
Because of four other words:
“You’re my dearest friends.”
Ted Wolgamot, Psy.D.