Do not be afraid (Matthew 10:26)
Fear is in the air at the moment. There is the fear, the dreadful fear that was experienced in that terrible fire at Grenfell Tower in London. There is the subsequent fear that this disaster could be repeated and the fear that must be felt by those being evacuated from their homes. There has also been the fear that has followed terrorist attacks in Manchester and London. And also, of course, the fear that hangs in the air over the state of the economy and how the currently uncertain political situation will develop.
And in this atmosphere, we hear the words of Jesus: Do not be afraid. They occur twice in today’s Gospel. Similar words occur many times and in many situations throughout the Old and New Testaments. Words of comfort. Words of reassurance.
Yet do they really mean anything? And are they really words of encouragement and hope or just empty expressions in the face of disaster? Certainly people of no faith would say so. How can we realistically, honestly, say to those facing calamities as we have seen recently, they should not fear, that they should trust in God. These words might seem almost cruel. Why should the afflicted not fear?
But these expressions, though understandable, are quite wrong.
Fear leads to despair. It blights our lives. It can become a self-fulfilling prophecy. If we live in fear of the worst that can happen, we become frozen in in-action, shut inside our homes, never venturing out, never living our lives, stripped of our joy.
And fear leads not only to despair, but also anger, and suspicion, and to hatred. In fear, people turn against those who are different, those who disagree, those who might have some connection, however small, to the cause of our fear. In fear we see only the negative, the wickedness in people. We are blinded by blood-tinted spectacles.
Jesus’ words challenge us to move away from fear. Not to foolhardiness - which would be to pretend that the dangers and perils don’t exist - but rather to Courage, that virtue which knows that there are perils, and confronts them, but will not be ruled by them.
Jesus is leading us not to close our minds to difficulties, but to change our hearts in hope; not to see only the wickedness and weaknesses of people, but to appreciate their immense goodness and generosity and compassion. We have seen so many examples of this: the police and firefighters who helped victims of the fire; the donations of goods, time and money, to help those who have become homeless; the imam who protected the man who would have killed his fellow muslims; the doctors nurses and health care workers who have assisted the injured and the bereaved and the distressed.
Do not afraid does not mean empty blind hope, that pretends all is well when it is not, but facing the dangers, defying the disaster, confronting the wickedness, with hope - hope in God, and hope in the goodness of his people. It means living the Love of God, because, as St John says perfect love casts out fear. (1 John 4:18)