Many of us go through life fearing something (or even someone). Fear is an emotion that is induced by threat – a threat from within or without. Fear is caused whether by a past experience or a caution given by someone. There are many things that we fear – there is a fear of heights or closed spaces, fear of insects or other animals, fear of pain or death, fear of hospitals or the principal’s office, fear of the dark or of being discovered, etc. What is your greatest fear?
When we analyse our fear, we realise that to the individual, it is a real fear even though others may think it is silly. I remember when I first started primary school, I was afraid of going to the school toilet and it was probably because of what I have heard others talking about. But when I look back today, I can laugh at myself; but for a 7 year old, that fear was real and no matter what anyone could say, it would not take away the fear – one is crippled by fear.
In today’s Gospel we hear about the apostles who are in a boat on the Sea of Galilee in the midst of a fierce storm. In their struggle which was dominated by a real fear, Jesus comes to them, walking on water. Peter chooses to walk towards Jesus but when fear overcomes him, he becomes disillusioned and begins to doubt. The gospel today has great symbolic significance. Matthew’s intention of relating this event is to offer a paradigm of discipleship. The boat represents the Church; the storm is the persecution through which the early Church was passing; the action of Jesus shows His assurance of help and the wisdom of trusting Him.
The words that stand out in this account are “Do not be afraid”. The manner in which Matthew presents this account is saying to the early Church to not be afraid in the midst of all the persecution that is taking place. However, the circumstances surrounding the early Church and the world that we live in today are vastly different. So what do these words “Do not be afraid” mean for us today?
It is quite easy to deduce that Jesus calls us to put greater trust in Him in the midst of the “storms” that we experience in daily life. But there is also another dimension that this passage reminds us: “Do not be afraid” to be a disciple of Jesus. We live in a world where being a disciple of Jesus is not easy as there are many challenges and therefore we “fear” being different – in the sense that we seek to live out the values of the Gospel. For Jesus, the foundation of all values is love and love expresses itself in many forms (fruits of the Holy Spirit): joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control (Galatians 5: 22-23).
Our “fear” of being a disciple is controlled by this thought: What will others think of me? Will they think badly of me? Will they talk behind my back? Will they stop inviting me?
St Paul in Philippians 2:15, encourages that community to “shine like bright stars” in the midst of everyone. In other words, do not be afraid… to be honest in a situation of deception, to not offer a bribe so as to get something, to show forgiveness when one offends you over and over, to show patience to those who are not up to your standard, to show compassion to the migrant, to not gossip or cause disunity.
When we do things in an unexpected manner, of course they will talk about us, but in a good way because what shines out is our faith in Jesus and our commitment to be a disciple. There is a song I learnt when I was in the Christian Fellowship while in school: Let God arise, the enemy be scattered. The “enemy” in the context of our reflection today is fear. Let not the fear of being a disciple cripple us; rather let the truth of Jesus Christ set us free.
– 19th Sunday in Ordinary Time (A)