The Twelfth Sunday of Ordinary: The Fear of the Lord
It was 500 years before Christ and the Kingdom of Judah and its capital Jerusalem were terrified. The Babylonians were on the march. They had conquered all before them and they were heading towards Jerusalem. What should the King do?
The king’s counselors advised him to trust in human beings by making an alliance with the neighboring pagan nations to fight against the Babylonians. This seemed logical, except such an alliance would mean participating in the religious practices of these pagan neighbors including idol worship and human sacrifice. The King sought out the prophet Jeremiah because he knew Jeremiah was not afraid to speak the truth. Jeremiah told the King to trust in God and not to make an alliance with non-believers. That is why the king’s counselors hated Jeremiah and the first reading reveals the threats Jeremiah faced from them.
The fear of God is a biblical concept that is often misunderstood. It does not mean that we should be afraid of God. It mean that we should respect and reverence God, and be more concerned with following the Law of God than worry about what others might think or say.
Jesus in the Gospel says, “Do not let others intimidate you.” He tells us to keep our priorities straight. He tells us that we should not even be afraid of people who could kill us. “Do not fear those who deprive the body of life but cannot destroy the soul.” In one of the most beautiful passages in the New Testament, Jesus says, “Are not two sparrows sold for next to nothing? Yet not a single sparrow falls to the ground without your Father’s consent. As for you, every hair of your head has been counted; so do not be afraid of anything. You are worth more than an entire flock of sparrows.”
The Lord also says in that passage, “Fear Him who can throw body and soul into Gehenna.” This is not a popular concept in our society. We emphasize God’s compassion and mercy, and this is good, but we tend to refuse to acknowledge His justice. In our own minds, we transform God into an imaginary figure that will not respond to our rejection of His life and laws. For example, a person commits adultery, leaves their spouse and children, and then says, “God understands.” Well maybe the god of their imagination might understand, but the real God was present when marriage vows were made. God sees the turmoil and harm such a selfish person thrust upon an abandoned spouse and their children. God’s mercy is always available, but if we refuse to acknowledge our sins and seek forgiveness, we are committing the deadly sin of presumption, and, in effect, reducing God to a creature of our imagination.
But if we live with a reverence and respect for the Lord and if we do all we can to be God-fearing, then we do not have to be afraid of anything. When we live with a reverence and respect for the Lord, then all those concerns that the media delights in frightening us with will diminish.
Will the corona virus destroy half the population of the world? We certainly pray that it will not, but we also know that live or die what matters is that we belong to the Lord. Will the world end this year? Everything else seems to be going wrong in 2020, so maybe, but probably not. The end of the world should not matter as long as we are united to God. Will people attack us for being Christian? This seems more likely with every passing year. Christians will be disparaged because they are against abortion, against redefining marriage and family, against mercy killing? Yes, there are many living around us whose moral values begin and end with themselves and they will not permit any god besides themselves. But, such attacks and disparagement should not matter as long as we are united to God.
We have nothing to fear as long as we put God and His teachings first in our lives. A flock of sparrows is important to our Loving Father; yet we who are made in His image and likeness are worth infinitely more than many sparrows.
The devil has three terrible lies with which he assails us, sometimes directly, sometimes subtly. The first of the devil’s lies is: You are not good enough. To that God answers, “I have made you good enough. I became one of you. I died for you; so I could raise you up with Me to eternal life.” The second lie of the devil is: You are alone. God answers, “I am with you always. I know every hair on your head. I know what you are going through. Together we can manage to face all challenges and all fears.” The third lie of the devil is his greatest; that God has deceived us. He used this lie to great effect with Adam and Eve. In our modern times, a number of people seek other ways to live than that presented by Jesus and His Church. Yet, Jesus tells us, “I am the Way, the Truth and the Life.”