Print Version June 19th, 2005
“I hear so many disparaging me, ‘Terror from every side!’”—so says Jeremiah. … Fear runs through the heart of today’s readings. Jeremiah sounds a little paranoid—they are all talking about me, plotting against me—but it seems he was right to be afraid. And the charge his enemies bring against him too is one of fear—they call him an alarmist, they denounce him for seeing terror on all sides, they condemn him for being a terrorist, for making the people panic. And we are not talking about some weirdo on a street corner shouting the end of the world is nigh—Jeremiah is meddling in politics, the terror and war he foresees is the end result of political choices being made all around him, short-sighted choices, fear-driven choices that ignore the covenant and closeness of God. And in the interests of national security the people making those choices are getting ready to lock Jeremiah up to keep him quiet, for fear he’ll mess up their plans.
Fear runs through it all. Even Jeremiah prays to see his foes tremble in horror before an avenging God.
But in the gospel we hear a different voice: ‘Do not be afraid’. Jesus says it three times: ‘do not be afraid, do not be afraid’.
I’ve been trying to guess the tone of his voice but it eludes me. He’s definitely not treating his followers like children waking from a nightmare, shsh it’s all right. In fact he seems to say it isn’t all right: there are real things to fear, real terrors. Yet, all the same, don’t be afraid. And he gives three very strange reasons for not being afraid in the face of fear.
Because secrets will be spoken. Because God knows us down to the hairs on our heads. Because Jesus will stand by us and for us before the living God. None of which I find drastically comforting when the fear grips me.
But I look at what has happened worldwide since September 11th 2001 and how that awful terror has been the excuse to wage war, limit freedom, and neglect the poor and the planet and it seems so plain that a nation’s life governed by fear can only run to ruin.
But it’s the same for each of us. The voice in my heart that urges me to fear does so out of all proportion to what faces me. It would have me fear the dark as much as death. And it’s a voice that is unanswerable because, indeed, anything might happen. But when I listen to it my choices are bad ones and my freedom shrinks and my fear grows.
But for every whisper of fear there’s another voice offering me life and love. And the more I listen to it the freer I become. And when I’m free I want to proclaim it from the house-tops, I know how many sparrows I’m worth, and there is nothing I desire more than to have Jesus stand alongside me, to know he knows me, and would give himself for me, and me for him.