Rembrandt van Rijn, Jeremiah Lamenting the Destruction of Jerusalem, c. 1630. Wikipedia

God's Word on Sunday: Fear can keep us from our true humanity

  • June 14, 2020

12th Sunday in Ordinary Time, June 21 (Year A) Jeremiah 20:10-13; Psalm 69; Romans 5:12-15; Matthew 10:26-33

Jeremiah has been called the “reluctant prophet” and it is easy to see why.

He had not sought the calling and protested mightily to God that he was too young and inexperienced. God would hear none of it and insisted that since this was a divine call, Jeremiah could not refuse.

His ministry had been long and fraught with rejection and danger. Many plotted against him and he had been targeted several times for death. And yet he always escaped the traps that had been laid for him and continued his mission.

He soldiered on, not by his own strength or talent, but by the power and grace of God. That was the promise God made to Jeremiah after his initial refusal. He praised God for rescuing and empowering him.

Jeremiah experienced an important life lesson: It is God’s show, not ours. As long as we think that we are in charge and that everything depends on our efforts and skills, we labour at a disadvantage. Ego, selfishness and fear can taint our words and actions.

It is easy to be overwhelmed or to fall flat, and burnout is a distinct possibility. Doing what God asks of us also attracts a lot of negative attention and opposition. Today, as in Jeremiah’s time, change and reform is often greeted with opposition, resistance, character assassination and even violence.

Although Jeremiah accomplished the mission God had given him, it did not bear fruit. The people refused to listen and the Babylonians destroyed Jerusalem and the Temple in 586 B.C. Jeremiah longed to see his wicked opponents get their comeuppance and he lived to see their downfall.

Our current crisis has shown us how human endeavours can be swept aside in an instant — in this case, by something we cannot even see. It is important that we not become fearful and lose our sense of mission and purpose.

Human sin — and the broken world we live in — is the result of people doing things their own way rather than walking in God’s ways. God wants to be the director, not an occasional consultant.

Paul used a powerful metaphor to describe the pervasiveness of human sin. Rather than an historical figure, Adam is a symbol of our common humanity. In the story, his disobedience of God became ours, as humans passed down negative attitudes, ideas, words and actions from generation to generation.

Human sin spreads by example and by making negative and ungodly things “normal,” and confusing our own wishes with God’s will. Fortunately, we were not left alone. Moses, the prophets and numerous teachers were given to humanity.

God extended a hand, offering us restoration and salvation as a gift through Jesus. But free gift does not mean free pass — it requires a heartfelt and sincere response to God’s grace.

Fear is our most powerful enemy. It prevents us from experiencing the depth and richness of our humanity as well as the inner presence of God. We are afraid to speak out and challenge the powers that be, culture, tradition and “the way things are.”

We hide from ourselves and bury our darkness behind secrets. Jesus urges us to lose that fear. God detests secrets — all that humans try to hide will be brought to light. We can see this in our own time as the things hidden in darkness are revealed: sexual abuse, corruption, racism and injustice are being exposed for all to see. It is a deeply disturbing and humiliating experience, but one made necessary by human denial.

People are losing their fear and recapturing their dignity and a sense of justice. But we often try to bury and hide the light, too. It has become almost taboo to speak openly of God or spiritual things. That fear must also go for God will not be long denied.

Truth-telling and witnessing can be costly and in some instances it might even cost us life and limb. Jesus reassured His audience with the analogy of the sparrows sold for a penny. Despite their apparent insignificance, they matter, for they are known and loved by God.

In biblical terms, to be known and remembered by God is to be saved. Every human is of infinite worth. If we are known and loved by God, what is there to fear?