Fear is the root cause of the violence in our society

Following the tragedy of the shooting of Michael Brown by a police officer in Ferguson, Missouri, faith leaders met at Christ Church Cathedral on August 27, 2014 to pave a way for a seminar. The invitation that Sub Dean Manoj Zacharia sent out stated, in part, the following: “In light of emerging realities, we feel that we need to have an open and frank discussion on “fears”.

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I suspect that there are similar concerns and initiatives around the country – and there ought to be – especially when one takes into account tragedies like the killing of Trayvon Martin or Renisha McBride, the Michigan girl who knocked on the door of a homeowner only to be shot in the face and killed.

In all these incidents, fear is a major factor – not the only factor – but a very important one. In incident after incident the killer claims – justifiably or not – that he was afraid, of course, for his life. I am thinking right now of an episode in Alan Paton’s novel, Cry the Beloved Country when Kumalo’s son, Absalon is sentenced to death for killing a white man during a home invasion. When asked why he shot the homeowner Absalom simply replies, “I was afraid”.

Perhaps, no injunction is as prominent in the Bible as “fear not”, or “do not be afraid” for at its deepest, fear is not the opposite of courage; it is lack of faith. Yet, in spite of all the successes and achievements we have amassed as individuals and a society, at the deepest level, we are in the grip of fear.

We will not be completely free until we overcome our deepest fears. We will not rise to the finest expressions of humanity with fear in the background. We will not overcome many of our social ills as long as fear is a driving force – even subtly

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With Jesus we muster the storms

Storms and promise

The account of Jesus walking on water, which is the Gospel Reading for the Sunday of Proper 14 (Matthew 14:22-33) is also recorded in Mark 6:47-52 and John 6:16-26. The writers make a connection between this miracle and that of feeding of five thousand people.

 

Many people have asked the question: Did Jesus actually walk on the Sea of Galilee or is this story a resurrection appearance to Peter? Or could it be a reflection of the early church in a time of persecution? Still others wonder if the translation “walking on the sea” could be translated “walking by the sea”. Indeed, the Greek preposition epi in the phrase – “peripaton epi ten thalassan” can render the phrase, “walking upon, over, on, at, near, by, the sea”, depending on context Still, some wonder if what we have is a pious legend just as others accept it without reservations.

 

Nevertheless, the thrust of the story is Peter (and the rest of the disciples) and the storm. Jesus told them to get on the boat. Jesus encouraged Peter to walk on the water. This means that the church as a community of believers and the faithful do face storms or moments of crisis.

 

From time to time the early church faced persecution. Today we need to think of the minority indigenous Christians, especially in the Middle East. In Iraq Christians face forced conversion to Islam or expulsion.  The church in the West is silent, primarily because the West, with the church’s collusion, directly or indirectly created the chaos there.

 

Coptic Christians in Egypt similarly face persecution from time to time and in West’s ally nations like Saudi Arabia, practicing any faith other than Islam is illegal. These are storms in the church today.

 

In the Gospel story, Jesus reaches out his hand and grabs Peter. He is still doing that today, stretching his hand to rescue the faithful from the crises of life.

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We make a note too that Peter started sinking when he shifted his attention from Jesus to the storm. The text says in verse 24 that the boat was battered by waves because the wind was strong. Then in verse 30, as Peter was walking toward Jesus, he saw the wind, was afraid and started sinking.

 

Could the wind have been stronger this time than when he started? May be, or may be not. He did not start sinking because of the wind, but because he was afraid. He was afraid because he shifted his attention from Jesus to the wind. Indeed, we can weather the weather if we can muster our fears. And we can muster our fears if we focus on Jesus instead of the crises we may be facing. The crises become bigger and bigger as we concentrate our attention on them.

 

With Jesus we muster the storms.