Jesus’ words always strike home and are remembered because they are so consistent with our human nature. He says things that people understand from their own experience of life. The joy of finding something long lost or misplaced, the sadness of a loved one’s death, the sight of a sunrise or a beautiful baby — no need for words of explanation; they are self-explanatory and universally understood.
In today’s Gospel passage Jesus speaks about fear, as normal a human response as any other we can name. But he says we are not to fear, which seems like an impossibility. I don’t think we can be blamed for asking how we can keep from being afraid — of someone, for example, who is about to do us bodily harm. But in the context of his whole teaching, that could not have been what he meant. Of course he knew that such a reaction of fear is a natural and necessary reflex to serious dangers that threaten us. It’s really our first defense that calls into play all our life-preserving energies.
My take on this statement of his is that he is reminding us that the greatest mystery of our lives is that we are connected to our Creator, the sustainer of our lives, living and active within us always. He goes on: as long as we remain aware of that union we are strong beyond our ordinary powers. It is when we allow ourselves to grow weak in that faith, even to the point of practical denial, that we have reason to be afraid.
Jesus reminds us of how intimately the Father — his affectionate name for God — knows every one of us. He says that the Father can identify each of us down to the last detail, the last cell of our bodies.
This is a clue to what empowered Jesus, what kept him going despite the tremendous odds he faced and the frequent signs that his mission was not going well at all. The religious and civil authorities were opposing him, using every device at their disposal to stop him and to turn his followers away from him. How many sleepless nights did he endure, worrying about how things would go tomorrow? And then the threat of being murdered.
What empowered him, what kept him going, was that he knew himself and the God who lived with and in him always.
“Identity crisis” has been one of the fashionable ills of our age. If one lives chronically victimized by fear, it is possible that that person doesn’t know who he or she really is. Whether it’s a general fear of the unknown future, a fear of death, fear of loneliness, fear of one’s own inadequacies — whatever form it may take — there’s simply more to human life and to the human person than that.
We are known and loved and cared for by the one and only God personally, directly, constantly. That’s who we are. That’s what Jesus experienced and spoke about over and over again.
So, fear is necessary and unavoidable and often very helpful, but it is meant to be tempered by the simple and profound realization of God-With-Us.
We are not talking about a gimmick that can be turned on and off. It is rather a way of life that involves deep reflection and a kind of surrender that is possible only to the genuinely and sincerely prayerful person.
We have to pray for each other that this may be the attainment of all.