Genesis 46:1-7, 28-30
Almost exactly two years ago, a long period of uncertainty ended in clarity. Clarity that God was calling me here, to this community. And while that clarity was a relief, what I didn’t expect was that that would be the easy part. Leaving my job, packing up my apartment, saying goodbye to my friends—all these practicalities showed that responding to God’s call was definitive, transformative, and risky.
Our Gospel lesson today sits in the middle of what’s called the “Missionary Discourse.” Jesus’s disciples have answered his call, and Jesus has told them that they will share in his ministry of proclaiming the good news, healing the sick, raising the dead, cleansing lepers, and casting out demons. But he also tells them that they will share in his sufferings: betrayed and arrested, hated and beaten. These disciples are risking all when they say yes to Jesus.
What is an acceptable risk? In my own answer to God’s call, I didn’t face betrayals, beatings, or hatred of all. But I did face the unknown—what if this doesn’t work out? What if friends or family don’t understand what I’m doing? Part of me—a lot of me—was afraid of the unknown, afraid of what the answer to these questions might be. Is the risk worth it?
Jesus calls us to risk all, but he also offers us a simple assurance: “have no fear.” “Have no fear.” This is the same assurance God gives to Jacob as he uproots his family and all his possessions to join his son Joseph in Egypt: “Jacob, Jacob . . : do not be afraid to go down to Egypt, for I will make of you a great nation there” (Gen 46:3).
All this may strike us as strange or difficult to live into. Fear is a natural, human reaction to risk. But I think Jesus’s point is not that we should be fearless, but that that fear shouldn’t dominate our lives and thoughts. “Jacob, Jacob . . . I myself will go down with you to Egypt, and I will also bring you up again” (Gen 46:4). We can feel fear, but not let it dominate because, if we live into God’s call to us, God has promised to be with us. “Have no fear. . . . I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Mt 10:26, 20:20)
What is God calling you to today? How does saying yes to God unsettle your life, your sense of security? What are you afraid to risk? Hear Jesus’s words—“have no fear”—and know that he will be with you, always.
What’s next? Much anxiety stems from what we don’t know. Fearing uncertainty, we often grasp what we know and have. Nicodemus, a religious leader, came to Jesus sounding confident. “We know who you are.” We know what is possible and impossible. By what you’re doing, “you must be a teacher from God.” Jesus replied, “No one can see the kingdom without being born from above.” How is that possible? Nicodemus asked. “Can one enter the womb again?” Jesus said, “One must be born of water and spirit.” How is that possible? Nicodemus came thinking he knew what’s possible and what’s true. Nicodemus came at night, a sign that he’s in the dark, that he cannot see, and does not know.
We, too, are often in the dark, trapped, thinking we can see. We get trapped by the certainty that someone will act a particular way. We assume from experience and claim our knowledge. Perhaps you’re like me finding yourself grasping with assumptions, holding so tight that you cannot hear another possibility about that person, or about yourself, or about God. Out of anxiety we construct containers of limiting expectations. We grasp at knowing Jesus and like Thomas we want to see. We want evidence and think we know what we must have.