Monday, January 15, 2007

Be afraid, or not?

Today's New Testament reading has a really interesting section that I'd like to think about with you. Jesus is giving instructions to twelve of his disciples (Matthew 10:5), and after he's said they might be flogged, arrested, betrayed unto death, hated, and so on, then he comes to this part:
“So do not be afraid of them. There is nothing concealed that will not be disclosed, or hidden that will not be made known. What I tell you in the dark, speak in the daylight; what is whispered in your ear, proclaim from the roofs. Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather be afraid of the one who can destroy both soul and body in hell. Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from the will of your Father. And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. So don't be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.
Matthew 10:26-31
So... the passage begins and ends with "do not be afraid." And in between, it says not to be afraid even of death but rather to fear "the one who can destroy both soul and body in hell."

This is really interesting. Who is that one? The NIV editors capitalize "One", so I suppose they think it's God (rather than the devil). We don't hear a lot these days about fearing God, though interestingly enough today's Old Testament reading refers to God as "the Fear" (Genesis 31:53) -- as Buechner does in his marvelous novel Son of Laughter.

There is a temptation here to talk about fear as an Old Testament kind of thing, because many passages about fear are from the Old Testament. Where does it say that the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and where does God say, "Do not be afraid of them, lest I terrify you before them"? Yes, those are both in the Old Testament. But as we see here, Jesus didn't have any trouble talking about the fear of the Lord, and he seemed to think it would actually give us courage to face things that aren't worth being afraid of. And the idea of eternal destruction, also mentioned in 2 Thessalonians 1:9, isn't mentioned anywhere in the Old Testament. Then there is this cheery verse from Hebrews: "Anyone who rejected the law of Moses died without mercy on the testimony of two or three witnesses. How much more severely do you think a man deserves to be punished who has trampled the Son of God under foot, who has treated as an unholy thing the blood of the covenant that sanctified him, and who has insulted the Spirit of grace?" (Hebrews 10:28-29)

Going back to the passage from Matthew, not everything Jesus says there is quite clear to me. But some things are; let's list some of them.
  1. I shouldn't be afraid.
  2. I should tell others what I have learned from Jesus.
  3. My life is in God's hands.
  4. I should not be afraid.
Well, if I remember to apply those truths, I'll have a better day than if I forget them.

Shall we give it a try?

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