Pentecost 3

This past Wednesday we had our first event for the Bordentown Laundry Project, which we set up with the Bordentown Rotary and Paul Ciarrocca, the owner of the Rivertown Laundromat.  As much as we wanted to do something like this, having an evening to invite those, who because of their financial situation, were having trouble keeping up with their laundry, we were apprehensive.  Questions seemed to beget not answers but other questions; fear begat more fear.  Who will come, if anyone?  What if more people come than we can accommodate?  How will they get there and home?  Snacks?  Games?  What if it rains?  What if no one else thinks this is a good idea and we can’t afford the whole thing?

 

We still have questions after our first evening, but we got lots of answers as well.  Between the parish and the wider community, more than $600 worth of quarters were collected.  Three dozen bottles of detergent, countless sheets of fabric softener, pounds of cookies, coolers full of water, enough coloring books and crayons to keep 30 kids occupied.  We ended up serving around 30 members of our community, and the love of Christ was proclaimed on our streets.

 

That doesn’t mean we had nothing to fear.  If you remember, on Wednesday afternoon, right as we were loading my truck to bring the supplies over, the skies opened up, pouring rain, lighting, and thunder.  The storm threatened to squash the event – who would carry their laundry out in a thunderstorm?

 

The Church Father’s teach us that when something good is happening or about to happen, Satan attacks, tries to get in the way of the Gospel being preached in word or deed.  As volunteers from the church, the Rotary, Hope Hose, and the Kiwanis carried various things into the laundromat, braving the storm, it was clear we were under attack.  But it was also clear something good was about to happen.

 

But again, that doesn’t mean we had nothing to fear.  Today’s Gospel reading is a lesson in fear, a subject appropriate to our times.  Fear God, Jesus tells us, and I think many of still wrestle with that language.  Why would we fear a loving God, a God who died for us?  It’s confusing, certainly.

 

First, Jesus tells His disciples that He is sending them out into the world as ‘sheep amongst wolves’, now a classic reference.  The twelve disciples, like so many that would come after them, will be persecuted, attacked, betrayed, put to death by even the people they trusted.

 

“Jesus says not to be afraid of such people.  They can only kill the body but cannot touch the soul.  On the other hand, Jesus says, “Be afraid of the one who can destroy both soul and body in Gehenna.”  In other words, fear God.  But rather than leave us with that bald statement, Jesus hastens to add a thought “on the third hand”: God whose eye is on the sparrow, cares even more for you.  Indeed, he even counts the hairs on your head.  So do not be afraid.  You are worth much more than a whole flock of sparrows.

 

 

“Did the third hand take away what the second hand gave?  Jesus is saying that the One who holds the ultimate power over you is the One who loves you the most.  How, then, does exhortation to fear God apply?  Jesus is here simply recalling a theme deep in the Hebrew tradition, the intimate connection between fear and love of God.  What is meant by fear in these contexts is a complete awe and reverence for the Creator, such that one always acts out of profound respect for (the Lord).

 

“If “fear” of God has such a positive meaning, why, then, does Scripture insist on negative words that are best translated “fear” in this case?  Analogy may help.  Every parent wants to instill in a toddler a healthy fear of fire, deep water, and automobile traffic…  (Healthy fear, not craven fear.)

 

“Perhaps a more helpful analogy is the fear we have of offending those we love the most.  Are we not deeply pained when we discover that a word or act of ours has hurt a parent, a child, or a good friend? And do we not fear offending them?  That’s the fear Jesus would have us feel toward the Father.  When our love life is governed by this fear of God, we discover that we really have nothing to be afraid of.”[1]

 

The fear, awe, and reverence of God drives out the fears of this mortal life and replaces them with love, the kind of love that causes us to reach out to each other and our neighbors in the Name of Jesus.

 

[1] Dennis Hamm, SJ  http://liturgy.slu.edu/12OrdA062517/theword_hamm.html

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