The Sea of Galilee is at the vortex of a wind tunnel coming from the north, and the sea is notorious for storms. A storm will literally come out of the blue. We could ask, why was this Gospel story remembered? Why has this story been passed down over the generations, eventually figuring into the Canon of Holy Scripture? It isn’t a “heads up” about bringing rain gear if you ever plan to travel in Galilee, though that may be prudent. Rather, the story has been remembered because it’s archetypal. This is a life story. There you are; all is calm, all is bright… and a storm hits. And so does fear.
In the Scriptures there is nothing that is talked about more than this matter of fear. In the Scriptures, there is no commendation repeated more often and in more different ways, than “fear not.” We read repeatedly, “Fear not.”
“Fear not, stand firm.”[i]
“Do not fear, though the earth should change, though the mountain tremble and shake in the heart of the sea. Fear not.”[ii]
“Fear not, for I am with you.”[iii]
Why are you afraid? Where does life’s unpredictability cause you to tremble? Why are you afraid? Are you afraid that you might be wrong? Are you afraid that you might be right? Are you afraid that you might not be included? Are you afraid that you might be included? Are you afraid that you might fail? Are you afraid that you might succeed? Are you afraid that you might never finish, or maybe that you’re going to finish? Are you afraid of making a commitment or of not making of commitment? Are you afraid of being sick, of dying? Are you afraid that you’re going to have to face being well again? Are you afraid of someone? Are you afraid of yourself? Are you afraid that you might be sent, or might not be sent? Afraid that you won’t get the attention, or maybe that you will get the attention? Are you afraid of being discovered, or of never being discovered? Afraid of heights and depths something else between? Most of us, I suspect, know something right now in our life about fear and some thing or some things that evoke fear. Why are you afraid? And what are you doing about it?
Fear is not a sign of the absence of God. In our fear we rather find the bidding presence of God. Our fear most often arises out of something that is bigger than we are – perhaps concerning our health, or family, or vocation, or endurance – and we find that in and of ourselves, there isn’t enough – not enough energy, or patience, or hope, or encouragement, or provision. We come up short. And we’re afraid that our boat is going to sink. Fear raises issues that may well need to be dealt with on many levels, but one of those levels is the spiritual. Where is God in your fear? What is the invitation from God in your fear? Fear is like a beam of light pointing to a deep place of need within our heart. Fear is very illuminating. What is the fear exposing? That deepest place of need within our heart, that place where we are too small, too powerless, too hungry to go on. What is it? Why are you afraid? In our fear there is an invitation from God, a reminding invitation that God wants to be God in our life. We cannot live our life and be our own God at the same time.
The disciples are out in a boat. It’s dusk, the end of a long and tiring day. And it comes again: one of life’s storms leaving them drenched in fear. So why are you afraid? If you haven’t had that kind of conversation with God, have it. When you answer Jesus’ question – “Why are you afraid?” – how do you respond to Jesus? And how does Jesus respond to you? If the Scriptures are true – saying time and time again, that we don’t need to be afraid – why is that so for you? Why it is that I don’t need to be afraid may not be why you don’t need to be afraid. I have my story and you have yours… and Jesus has his. Jesus surely experienced fear. If we don’t hear his experience of fear before, we surely hear it in the end from the cross as he bleats his fear, his feeling of forsakenness to the God whom he called Father.[iv] It’s not that we need not be afraid because being fearful because you shouldn’t be – because you’re supposed to be strong and faithful. It’s not that we don’t need to be afraid because we shouldn’t be. This is not a scolding but rather a reassurance. You need not be afraid.
“Why are you afraid?” Jesus asks us all. Jesus longs to hear why. Jesus longs to be invited into your fear. If you’re afraid that you are going to lose your life, or lose some part life, you don’t need to be afraid. Why? Because you’re going to. We’re all going to lose our lives; we’re all going to lose the life that we now recognize. But Jesus assures us that in losing our lives we find them. The Scottish philosopher and theologian John Macmurray says there is an old adage about fear which some of us have learned… and it’s neither helpful nor true. The old adage is, “Fear not; trust in God and God will see that none of the things you fear will happen to you.” On the contrary, that’s not true, in Macmurray’s view. He retranslates the old adage as, “Fear not; the things that you are afraid of are quite likely to happen to you, but they are nothing to be afraid of.”[v] Why not? Because Jesus tells us, “I am with you in this… This is the way into life.”
What do you and Jesus have to say to one another, about why it is that neither one of you need to be afraid? And if you’re afraid even to talk with Jesus about your fear, then start there: why it is that you are afraid to talk to Jesus about your fear. Tell him! Go ahead. Listen to these words from the prophet Isaiah, words which Jesus himself surely knew:
“Fear not, for I am with you. Be not afraid, for I am your God. I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my victorious right hand.”[vi] You do not need to be afraid.
[i] Exodus 14:13.
[ii] Psalm 46:2-3.
[iii] Isaiah 41:10; Matthew 10:26-33.
[iv] Matthew 27:46; Mark 15:34; and remembering Psalm 22:1-2.
[v]. John Macmuray (1891–1976), Persons in Relation (Humanity Books, 1998); p. 171.
[vi]. Isaiah 41:10.
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