Sunday, August 10, 2014

Why Not Be Afraid? A Sunday Rumination

And when he had sent the multitudes away, he went up into a mountain apart to pray: and when the evening was come, he was there alone. But the ship was now in the midst of the sea, tossed with waves: for the wind was contrary. And in the fourth watch of the night Jesus went unto them, walking on the sea. And when the disciples saw him walking on the sea, they were troubled, saying, It is a spirit; and they cried out for fear. But straightway Jesus spake unto them, saying, Be of good cheer; it is I; be not afraid. And Peter answered him and said, Lord, if it be thou, bid me come unto thee on the water. And he said, Come. And when Peter was come down out of the ship, he walked on the water, to go to Jesus. But when he saw the wind boisterous, he was afraid; and beginning to sink, he cried, saying, Lord, save me. And immediately Jesus stretched forth his hand, and caught him, and said unto him, O thou of little faith, wherefore didst thou doubt? And when they were come into the ship, the wind ceased. Then they that were in the ship came and worshipped him, saying, Of a truth thou art the Son of God.

[Matthew 14:23-33]

"Be not afraid" might be the single most repeated statement in the Bible. Clearly the Redeemer wanted us to take it -- and Him -- seriously. But perhaps it's worth our time to view that exhortation its merits apart from the authority of the Son of God.

Why not be afraid? Surely there are plenty of things to fear in the world around us. Every step one takes outside his home, and quite a few inside it, puts him within the scope of something that might harm or bereave him. Pain and sorrow are certainties of human life. Indeed, no matter how fortunate any of us might be at any time, the future is unknowable except for one thing: we shall all die. And after we pass through that one-way door, we must face God's judgment on how we've lived, with no certainty about His verdict. Don't we have good reasons to fear?

There are enough "secular" takes on fear and the best attitude toward it that you've surely encountered as many as I have. You might have seen a few of them here. But today being Sunday, it's time for a specifically faith-based, Christian approach.

How could the Redeemer, He Who would ultimately face the most savagely torturous death His time could devise, counsel us lesser ones not to fear?

The premises of the Christian faith are few and simple. They're summed up in the Nicene Creed:

I believe in one God,
the Father almighty,
maker of heaven and earth,
of all things visible and invisible.

I believe in one Lord Jesus Christ,
the Only Begotten Son of God,
born of the Father before all ages.
God from God, Light from Light,
true God from true God,
begotten, not made, consubstantial with the Father;
through him all things were made.
For us men and for our salvation
he came down from heaven,
and by the Holy Spirit was incarnate of the Virgin Mary,
and became man.
For our sake he was crucified under Pontius Pilate,
he suffered death and was buried,
and rose again on the third day
in accordance with the Scriptures.
He ascended into heaven
and is seated at the right hand of the Father.
He will come again in glory
to judge the living and the dead
and his kingdom will have no end.

I believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life,
who proceeds from the Father and the Son,
who with the Father and the Son is adored and glorified,
who has spoken through the prophets.

I believe in one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church.
I confess one Baptism for the forgiveness of sins
and I look forward to the resurrection of the dead
and the life of the world to come. Amen.

[Emphasis added by FWP.]

That is the entirety of Catholic Christian theology, except for two other items: the Immaculate Conception of Mary, the Mother of God; and the Assumption of Mary into Heaven after her death. But note the emphasized line in the Creed above: Jesus was the conduit through which His Father's power was exerted to create all things. The Gospel According to John reinforces this assertion in a poetic way:

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God. All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made. [John 1:1-3]

If Jesus, the Word through Whom all things were made, tells us to "be not afraid," He must have good reason. That reason is dramatized in Peter's journey across the surface of the waters toward Him: he was endangered by one and only one thing: the onset of doubt.

In another Gospel passage of great importance, Jesus's disciples ask Him: "Lord, increase our faith." But He replies, "If you had faith like a mustard seed, you would say to this mulberry tree, 'Be uprooted and be planted in the sea'; and it would obey you." To the Redeemer, and of necessity to us as well, faith is the touchstone for all challenges, temporal as well as eternal. For He "through whom all things were made" knows our capacities. He would not demand of us exertions that exceed our strength, nor would He set us to trials beyond our ability to withstand.

Remember that He gave His disciples powers comparable to His own; they too could heal the sick and the lame and cast out demons, as long as they did so in His name. There could be no clearer demonstration of the power of faith in Him -- and the Twelve, men of Galilee whom He asked to accept a proposition asked of no other Israelite, needed it more than anyone to walk the Earth since them.

But wait; there's more!

We fear death for several reasons. It's often preceded by pain and incapacity. It separates us from those we love. Perhaps it will interrupt undertakings of importance to us. But there is this as well: Death is the end of all temporal pain, struggle, and strife. No matter how intense the trials and sufferings that precede it, death brings them to an end, even as it delivers infinitely more to us, and us to infinitely more.

Faith, specifically in the New Covenant of Christ and in His promise of eternal bliss in His nearness at the bargain price of obeying a few exceedingly simple commandments:

And he said unto him, Why callest thou me good? there is none good but one, that is, God: but if thou wilt enter into life, keep the commandments. He saith unto him, Which? Jesus said, Thou shalt do no murder, Thou shalt not commit adultery, Thou shalt not steal, Thou shalt not bear false witness, Honour thy father and thy mother: and, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. [Matthew 19:17-19] all that's required to get there from here.

[Operators are standing by to take your order! Please, no C.O.D.s]

What a tiny price for so great a gift! How much more could we have been offered? How much less could we have been asked in return? And with that star to steer by, what could there be to fear...except a failure of our faith?

Though we can fail in faith, faith will never fail us. Peter, before whom stood the fleshly incarnation of God, learned that at first hand as he trod the waters of the Sea of Galilee. His lesson is ours as well.

May God bless and keep you all.

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