A little bird was enjoying her evening flight, flying from branch to branch, chirping all the time. When she suddenly noticed that a snake was watching her from below with the intent of swallowing her, she was frozen by fear and sat quietly. The terrifying thought of the snake made her faint, and fell directly into the expectant mouth of the snake.
Fear paralyzed the little bird and she forgot that she could fly and escape the danger solely on the strength of her wings. Many fears are like bubbles, which would burst with slightest prick of the needle of “trust”; trust in one’s ability to confront. Henry Emerson says, “Fear imprisons; faith liberates; fear paralyzes; faith empowers; fear disheartens; faith encourages”.
When we look at the Scriptures, we find that the Lord asks people to give up fear and invites them to have faith. After the miraculous catch of fish, Peter responds by falling at the feet of Jesus, “Go away from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man” (Lk 5:8). At first sight, it would seem appropriate a response, an acknowledgement of his littleness and unworthiness in the face of God’s holiness and goodness. But it is not the response that Jesus expected from him. The awareness of God makes him tremble and it crushes him down. Peter does not embrace the invitation of Jesus; he wants to escape from it. Hence Jesus instructs Peter not to be afraid. Jesus is inviting Peter to move out of fear and come into deeper waters of intimacy. Further he invites Peter to share in his mission, “Do not be afraid; henceforth you will be catching men” (Lk. 5:10).
A similar situation is also found in the book of Judges. God, appearing to Gideon in the form of an angel, whom Gideon did not recognize, said to him, “Go in this might of yours and deliver Israel from the land of Midian” (Jud 6:14). Gideon wants to escape from the call of God and said “Pray, Lord, how can I deliver Israel? Behold my clan in the weakest in Manasseh and I am the least in my family”. However God assured him, “But I will be with you and you shall strike the Medianites as one man” (Jud 6:16). When Gideon perceived that he was the angel of the Lord he said, “Alas, O Lord God! For now I have seen the angel of the Lord face to face”. But the Lord said to him, “Peace be with you; do not fear, you shall not die” (Jud 6:22-23). Here too God invited Gideon for a deeper intimacy and faith and further for a mission to deliver Israelites from the Midianites.
A number of great Christian mystics have taught that, as we grow more deeply in our relationship with God, we gradually become bolder. Simple piety gives way to mission; Legalism gives way to resourcefulness; judgment gives way to empathy. Healthy piety and healthy humility are gifts from the Holy Spirit. But they do not paralyze us with an unhealthy fear that blocks a deeper, more joyous and more intimate relationship with God and deep faith in Him. Healthiest religious person exhibits boldness and joy rather than a legalistic outlook and overly-fearful piety.
Most Rev. Dr. M. Devadass Ambrose
Bishop of Thanjavur