Concealed and secret things tend to scare children (and sometimes me, too!). Little ones are afraid of the dark because it conceals too much—they can’t see what might be trying to get them so they look under their beds for the boogeyman.
I was always frightened when I observed my parents whispering together with knitted brows and worry written all over their faces. Our natural tendency is to avoid whatever frightens us, and this is true for both children and adults.
Fear paralyzes us, keeps us from acting and growing. Fear robs us of our freedom and hinders our judgment. Fear, however, can also at times be positive. A healthy fear can bring caution to a hasty response, can prompt us to go to the doctor when we don’t feel quite right, can bring us to install an alarm system in our homes to protect body and possessions.
In this Sunday’s gospel Jesus talks about fear: whom and what we should fear and whom and what we need not fear. Jesus begins with the bold statement, “Fear no one.” Yet, in the next breath he tells us to “be afraid of the one who can destroy / both soul and body.” Does Jesus contradict himself? No, not really. He is helping us sort out fear. We need not fear when we choose to live and “speak in the light” and acknowledge Jesus as Lord. [Living Liturgy, 2014]
Proclaiming the gospel can bring frightening results, for sure. People may misunderstand us, scorn us, turn on us. Certainly this happened to Jesus.
We can overcome this fear, however. We know that when we alignb ourselves with Jesus and “proclaim on the housetops” what he has revealed to us, we are not alone. Our greatest source of audacity—of proclaiming Jesus’ Good News and acting boldly—is the assurance that God has every hair on our head counted. God counts us worthy to be disciples of the divine Son, and even if others try to “kill the body,” God will protect and bring to everlasting Life those who are faithful.
We do need to fear when we choose infidelity and denial of Jesus in any form. This kills. This death we ought to fear. This death is not from some outside entity, but comes from inside ourselves. This death is our own doing; it is choosing our own selfish interests above acknowledging our identity in Christ and being consistent with his call to be faithful disciples.
This death destroys our joy and balance in this life and threatens our eternal happiness.
Yes, Jesus says to us, “Fear no one.” While others might bring harm, disappointment, or sadness, these threats from outside ourselves cannot destroy God’s protection and care. We only need to keep Jesus’ continued Presence before us and act accordingly. Fear of being unfaithful, self-centered, and totally self-reliant is actually healthy and life-giving. Most days most of us deal with both what we ought to fear and what we do not need to fear. Jesus challenges us to fear what is really death-dealing: denial of him.
The choice before us is to choose him. Choosing him will free us from the one thing that can kill us. Choosing him will give us Life.
Fearless or fearful? Which does our daily choosing reveal? We are fearless when we acknowledge God’s Presence and proclaim the Gospel by choosing integrity over dishonesty, by putting others’ good ahead of selfish whims, by uplifting others in our speech rather than tearing them down. We need to be fearful when we don’t think before we act, when we neglect thinking about God every day, when we estrange ourselves from what is right and good, when we turn our backs on Jesus.