A Fear Infection

Friday, November 29, 2013 — Week of Proper 29, Year One

[Go to Mission St Clare for an online version of the Daily Office including today’s scripture readings.]

Today’s Readings for the Daily Office:

Psalms 140, 142 (morning) // 141, 143:1-11(12) (evening)

Isaiah 24:14-23

1 Peter 3:13-4:6

Matthew 20:17-28

Peter’s letter this morning gives us some impeccable advice for living as people who have been transformed by the resurrection: “Do not fear what they fear.” There is no shortage of people and systems in our world that attempt to infect us with what they fear. They may want us to fear specific segments of the global population based on race, religion, ethnicity, family structure, or other factors. Even more basically, however, they want us to fear the social chaos and terror that will surely reign if we do not rigorously constrain society to established patterns and violently contain our alleged enemies.

What a liberating relief, though, to live as people who don’t need to fear change, authenticity, or people who differ from us. Who don’t need to fear suffering or shame. Who don’t need to fear death itself. This freedom from the world’s socially infectious fear is the gift of the resurrection.

Jesus tries to give this gift to his disciples in today’s gospel passage by explaining what is about to happen to him. As the chief priests, scribes, and Gentiles condemn him, mock him, flog him, and crucify him, Jesus wants his disciples not to fear what they fear. These enemies fear everything from religious impurities to social disorder, but Jesus wants to give his disciples a faith that frees them from sharing these fears. At every stage of this last phase of Jesus’ life, he wants his disciples to know the ultimate outcome, that “on the third day he will be raised.”

Peter also wants to give his audience this freedom from fear through the resurrection of Christ. He wants us to “Always be ready to make your defense”—not with fearful defensiveness, but “with gentleness and reverence.” He wants us to root our lack of fear in a clear conscience and in our confidence in Christ, who “was put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the spirit.”

Of course, we probably can’t avoid the natural fears that come from living in our world. Both our gospel reading and the letter of Peter warn us about the suffering and violence that may confront us. The prophecy from Isaiah also lists numerous threats to life on earth, such as storms and earthquakes. We learn about these fears, though, from plain-speaking prophets and fellow-pilgrims, as well as from Christ himself. They are not the fears that arise from trying to cling to control, social order, and security.

Whenever you hear insidious and infectious voices, do not fear what they fear. Wherever we can show our freedom from these fears, our lives will proclaim the resurrected life of Christ.

Lora Walsh blogs about taking risks and seeking grace at A Daily Scandal. She serves as curate of Grace Episcopal Church in Siloam Springs and as director of the Ark Fellows, an Episcopal Service Corps program sponsored by St. Paul’s in Fayetteville, Arkansas.

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