Sunday, August 8, 2010

"Do Not Be Afraid"

"Do not be afraid."
Ever notice how often that's repeated in both the Hebrew and Christian Scriptures? Since it's spoken frequently by God, you get the impression that it's pretty important advice! "Do not be afraid...for I will make of you a great  nation." (Genesis 46)  "Let not your heart faint, do not fear...for the Lord your God is the One who goes with you." (Deuteronomy 20)  "Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God." (Luke 1)  "Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary for your wife..." (Matthew 1)  "Fear not; you are of more value than many sparrows." (Luke 12)  "Do not be afraid, Paul..." (Acts 27)  "Fear not, I am the first and the last, and the living One."

Fear is real, and everyone of us must deal with it throughout our lives. Children often fear the dark and need a light left on; or ghosts and monsters, or big animals; or that Dad or Mom will leave them. Young adults live in fear of being embarrassed, of being made fun of; of standing out in a crowd; of being rejected by a girlfriend or boyfriend; of the uncertainty of the future or of life in general. Adults fear being unsuccessful, of not accomplishing something lasting. There's perhaps fear that a spouse may no longer love one. We're fearful about financial security, and about our children: their values, their safety, their choices in life. Once we reach the sunset of life we often fear for our health, our dwindling abilities, physical and mental. We may be fearful of becoming a burden for our family. And we fear having to face our own death.

As human beings we find it easier to deal with fear, to make it bearable, through faith and hope. If our relationship with God in Christ is truly a priority for us, we will come to trust in God's assurance, God's Word, and be able to stake everything on it.

Abraham, of course, has been a traditional and preeminent model of faith, for a number of reasons. The liturgical readings for today (Genesis 15:1-6 and Hebrews 11:1-3; 8-16) clearly allude to one of them. In the Genesis reading, Abram (this is before God renames him "Abraham" = "father of a multitude" in Genesis 17) frets over the fact that he's still childless, and that his servant, Eliezar, will legally become his heir. In a dramatic gesture, God allays his fear with the assurance: "Look toward heaven and count the stars, if you are able to count them...So shall your descendants be." The Genesis writer comments: "And he believed the Lord; and the Lord reckoned it to him as sedaqa = rightness, rectitude, virtue." In other words, Abram, in taking God at God's Word, in trusting God, treated their relationship as the reality that it really was: as kids today would term it, it was "all good", the understanding between them was "cool". And the unspoken corollary is that it was all clearly on God's loving initiative, with Abram adding his own free, loving consent and commitment.

The reading from Luke is expressed in much the same terms. In the 10 verses before this passage, Jesus had been urging the disciples: "Do not worry..." (Luke 12;22) Don't worry even about the basic things: food, or clothing for the body. He reminds them of three things: 1) that worrying and anxiety doesn't "add a single hour to your span of life..."; 2) that the concern of the surrounding culture over economic systems, financial security, acquiring goods or maintaining what one already possesses isn't his standard, nor should it be that of his followers; and 3) that the Father already knows what they need, "...and these things will be given to you as well."

Luke's Jesus continues: "Do not be afraid, little poimnion = group or flock, for it is your Father's good pleasure to give you the basileĆ­a = realm, reign, kingdom". In both Matthew 3 and earlier in Luke 10, Jesus referred to "reign of God" being at hand, right here, so close and present as to actually be "within you",  If the "reign" is Godself, God's Presence in the risen Christ, then what the Father delights to give us is what a contemporary theologian, Christopher Pramuk, commenting on Hagia Sophia = Holy Wisdom in Thomas Merton's writings, describes as: "...the Spirit of Christ but more than Christ. She is the Love joining the Father, Son, and Spirit that longs for incarnation from before the very beginning...the 'pivot' (le point vierge = the virgin[al] point) of nature...and all creation in God from the beginning. Perhaps most of all...Sophia is our 'true self,' when we (like Mary, seat of Wisdom) allow Christ to be birthed in us, and so realize the hidden ground of mercy, creativity, and presence in our very selves, the mystical Body of Christ. The moment her name awakens in us a sense of mercy, communion, and presence, not symbolic, but real, more than literally real. The remembrance of Sophia opens onto a mystical-political spirituality of engagement in the world..." (Christopher Pramuk, Sophia: The Hidden Christ of Thomas Merton, Liturgical Press, 2009, pp. 207-208)

You and I would do well to take time to think about what that means. And if that doesn't help you and me to not be afraid, I can't imagine what else would!

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