As a priest listens to confession or sits in counseling sessions, he learns that, of all of the various emotions, the one that seems to be at the root of so many of our problems in this life is fear. It is often unrealized by those speaking with the priest, and yet it is there, a prevalent presence. Fear. It is what the readings are about today. So much of our existence can be somehow brought into focus by asking the question, "Of what are you afraid?"
Fear begins when we realize that much in life does not make sense, and whenever we don't know how to make sense of life, we have fear. Our fear often remains hidden; we become good at hiding it. If it is not hidden, it comes out of us in ways we, and those around us, rarely understand. Fear is certainly a prime motivator during this time of terrorism and of war. Many of our decisions are based on this emotion. We fear things, people, ideas, time, love, and even the night. We often fear that which we cannot change, and then, ironically, we fear change. All of this must make one wonder about living in a world where people are even afraid of letting people love them and often equally afraid of loving others. We hide behind our locked doors in a world where it is easier to talk to someone by e-mail than it is to walk next door and meet your neighbor.
Of course, in some cases fear is quite good. The fear of heights keeps us away from falling off tall buildings; the fear of fire keeps us safe when we encounter it. Alternately, the fear of scarcity keeps us from thinking big and risking for the kingdom.
This is how fear rules us. When Jesus says, "Do not be afraid," He was smart enough to know we would be. We are convicted by the reality of our fear of scarcity every time we hear those words: "Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also." We are so afraid of this that we don't even want to look at it, or we reinterpret it in some really creative and self-serving ways, ways that make common sense, because we are about common sense. We are common sense people.
Sometimes our fears actually teach us something, make the scales fall from our eyes as we see the things we idolize: our health, our wealth, our status, and that fear helps us to find life and experience life as never before, in a deeper, richer way. That is the trust, the faith that is described in Hebrews and in Luke today. The things we fear can teach us. But, as in all things, we can't get well, until we know and admit our affliction.