Once upon a time, there are two guys in prison who are not too bright. One night they decide they don’t like living in a prison any more. They decide they’re going to escape! So, they break out of their windows and get up onto the roof. There on the roof, just across this narrow gap, they see the rooftops of the town, stretching away in the moonlight, stretching away to freedom. Now, the first guy jumps right across with no problem. But his friend does not dare make the leap. He has a huge fear of heights and a terrible fear of falling. The first guy has an idea. He says “Hey! I have my flashlight with me! I’ll shine it across the gap between the buildings. You can walk along the beam and join me!” But the second guy just shakes his head. He says, “What do you think I am? Crazy? You’re going to turn it off when I’m half way across!”
What is the difference between good fear and bad fear? I want to name many of those things we should fear: the red stoplight; an oncoming car in my driving lane; a dark alley at night in an unknown city; a person walking down up to my door with a butcher knife, etc. These are healthy fears that protect me. Then there are the unhealthy fears in my life: the phobias. This is the fear Jesus warns us about today. After he calls the Twelve to follow him he tells them, “Do not fear.” Literally, he says, “Do not be phobic.” “Do not be so seized by fear that you remain paralyzed.”
Look at Jeremiah. He has everything and everyone to fear. He hears everyone whispering about him. He refuses to back the political scene. He refuses to support the king as he speaks about war and the military buildup. He insists that his country folk support the covenant. They are to trust God and not the power of the horse, or the sword or even the chariot. In the end, he knows their treachery and how Judah will lose everything to the Babylonians.
After Jesus appoints The Twelve, he warns them. He says, “Now, as we preach the Gospel, persecutions will come. People are not going to like when we challenge the religious leaders or the political leaders. They will try to get rid of us. But do not be phobic…do not let them paralyze you.” But they did, the apostles became crippled with fear when they arrest the Lord and crucify him. Our example of how to confront this crippling fear is the life of the prophet Jeremiah. While Jeremiah prays to God and praises God for his faithfulness, we miss the interior struggle of the prophet’s prayer. Jeremiah yells at God for creating him. He accuses God of duping him into being a prophet because his country-folk become so abusive. He mourns the day that someone told his father that a son was born.
Now, though Jeremiah prays in turmoil telling God that he is a trickster, Jeremiah never gives up the prophetic mantle. He wants to stop preaching and prophesying, but he can’t. His whole being will not let him because Jeremiah fears God. The word “fear” here means “awe.” Jeremiah possesses a holy respect for God and God’s deeds. It is almost as if Jeremiah continues to “lean into God” for his safety.
As we open ourselves to God in Holy Communion the best way to overcome crippling fear is to lean into God. The word means, “to incline.” And when I incline towards God I can help to build the kingdom.
The Rev. Fr. Dr. T. Becket A. Franks, O.S.B.
12th Sunday Ordinary Time Cycle A