Nineteenth Sunday A
1 Kgs 19:9a, 11-13a; Ps 85:9-14; Rom 9:1-5; Mt 14:22-23
Fear can be an incredibly powerful force in our lives. It can either drive us totally mad, or it can be understood, channeled and used for great achievements. In today’s Scriptures we see two types of fear. We see the fear of surprise when the disciples saw Jesus walking on water. And we also see the fear of impending harm; the storm, the potential for drowning and even death. This kind of fear is called anxiety.
The disciples never expected to see a person out there on the sea. And their only logical explanation was that it had to be a ghost. It’s this kind of surprise fear that drives the whole horror movie industry today. Yet, we see it throughout the Bible too; except there is one difference. Every time it happens in the Bible, there is also a Voice saying, “Do not be afraid.”
– At Jesus’ Birth, the angel who appeared to the shepherds said, “Do not be afraid; for behold I proclaim to you good news of great joy…” (Lk 2:10)
– At Jesus’ Transfiguration, which we celebrated yesterday, Jesus said to His disciples, who were lying face down on the ground out of fear, “Rise and do not be afraid.” (Mt 17:7)
– In today’s story of the calming of the storm, Jesus said, “Take courage, it is I; do not be afraid.” (Mt 14:27)
– And after Jesus’ death, in discovering the open tomb, Mary Magdalene heard the angel say, “Do not be afraid, I know you are seeking Jesus the crucified.” (Mt 28:5)
You see, with every occasion of surprise fear in the Gospels, something great resulted. Out of the fear arose excitement, because each time, God revealed a little bit more about Himself:
– God becomes man, through the Blessed Virgin Mary;
– God can be known, even to the lowly shepherds;
– God’s beloved Son is Jesus;
– Jesus is there to calm our storms;
– And through Jesus, death has no power over us.
So the more we can live with Jesus within us, the less and less susceptible we will be to surprise fear.
Then there’s that second kind of fear, anxiety. The prophet Elijah was immersed in the fear of anxiety, because the wicked Queen Jezebel was out to kill him. And Elijah was on the run and hiding in a cave. And the whole world seemed to be crashing down upon him. There were mighty storms, earthquakes and fire (Does that not sound familiar, 2011?) Yet it wasn’t until Elijah heard the ‘tiny whispering sound’ that he hid his face in his cloak. It was God. And God said, “Elijah, why are you here?”
You see, Like Peter sinking in the water, Elijah had given in to doubt. Wasn’t God stronger than Jezebel? Wasn’t God mightier than any stormy wind? Isn’t God greater than any storm that we have to weather, as well: the crashing economy, unemployment, tornadoes, 116 degree heat, pain, disease, and even death?
St. Paul says, Yes, “in all these things we are more than conquerors through Christ who loves us.” Rom 8:37 And St. John told us that, “God is love, and there is no fear in love, but perfect Love drives out fear.” 1 Jn 4:16-18 Jesus is that perfect love. And the closer we come to Jesus, the further we get from fear.
And, if there IS any fear in our lives, then, we can use it for something wonderful by taking the hand of Jesus and listening for that tiny whisper in our hearts… the whisper of Love that’s calling us, “Bill, Jane, Joe, why are you here, hiding in a cave? Don’t you trust that I will protect you from all anxiety, even after death! Do not BE afraid!”
Then there actually is a third type of fear in today’s readings. We see it in St. Paul’s letter to the Church in Rome, and we also see it in Jesus. This is the fear for the salvation of our loved ones. Paul, being a well trained and zealous Pharisee – now turned Christian, had enormous anguish for his fellow Israelites, who had not recognized Jesus as their messiah. He truly feared and grieved for their salvation.
Jesus also feared for the awakening of His disciples. After all He had shown them, through the miracles, the healings and now, walking on water, would they ever believe? And yet, He knew that even if their emotions and their weak minds would relapse from time to time, within their hearts they did believe, as they professed again, “Truly, you are the Son of God!”
As we unite with one another and Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament today, let’s leave all of our fears and anxieties back there in that dark cave and reach out for His hand in Love.