“Don’t be afraid.”
That’s the one thing most frequently said by Jesus in the Bible. It’s not “love God” or “love your neighbour,” “be kind,” “don’t sin” or “go to church” (that one’s just silly). No. It’s “don’t be afraid.”
And I’m pretty sure we don’t hear them all. I bet Jesus said “don’t be afraid” to many more people, many more times than is recorded in all the stories we have. Much like the stories of Jesus sharing a meal with others, I think the gospel authors just got tired of repeating yet another “don’t be afraid” moment. And for the same reason: there are so many that they just become an ordinary, everyday occurrence. You’d expect that with the food stories. Everyone has to eat and that’s why Jesus shared that common ground so often. But it shouldn’t be surprising, then, that he’d need to encourage people to not be afraid. In Jesus’ world, so many lived in fear.
This is Jesus’ world, too. We still have fears. There’s still the oppressive use of power, from the ruthless brutality of dictators to the more subtle ways that power is exercised in the “free” parts of the world. There’s still poverty and hunger, there’s mental and physical health issues. There’s a whole host of things that the complexity of today’s world has added with technology and how we communicate and travel and simply interact with each other. It just seems like there’s lots to be afraid of. Sometimes it feels like we’re lost in a wilderness of fear. We didn’t choose it, but here we are and we can’t seem to escape it, to get back to a world where we feel we belong, where we feel comfortable and at home.
I feel like Jesus would still be saying “don’t be afraid.” Not as a command to change your behaviour or as if you could flick a switch and just suddenly feel different. We are, ultimately, free to be who we are.
I think Jesus means to remind us that we are loved and we are love and that fear disconnects us when we most need to know that. I know that sounds like one of those things pastors say to try and be comforting, but think about it. It’s when we’re afraid that we most need to remain calm and grounded, literally, connected to the earth. It’s when we’re afraid that we’re most likely to disconnect from compassion and grace, to think less about understanding and awareness and simply react. It’s when we’re afraid that we forget heart and mind are connected, that what’s truest is when heart and mind work together. It’s when we’re afraid that we become centred on ourselves and lose contact with the people we need the most, especially the interactive connection that reminds us that the world is a “we,” not an “I.” That’s where the strength is. That’s where God is.
Don’t be afraid. And wash your hands.