Do Not Be Afraid

(Fifth Sunday, Year C)

To understand this Sunday's readings, we must fix in our minds the enormous gulf between God and man. The distance between us and a worm is less than that betwen human beings and our Creator. To that ontological gap we can add two considerations.

First, the worm can get along just fine without us. Sure, some of us will soon provide supper for them - thin folks like myself a rather poor meal, others a richer repast. But our dependence upon God is total and ongoing. We would neither have come into existence nor be sustained for an instant without him.

And more to the point, rather than recognize our dependence, we resist it. Last week the Nazarenes gave the archetypical example. They had in their native son the greatest treasure ever, but when he began to reveal his true status, they wanted to hurl him from a cliff (Lk 4:29). Likewise we react when Jesus infringes on what we consider ours - my time, my money, my body.*

Most of us trudge along, trying to give God a decent amount of attention and to avoid a complete rupture with him. A few, however, have seen the truth. When Isaiah glimpsed God's holiness, he cried out, "Woe is me, I am doomed." (Is 6:5) And Peter fell at Jesus' knees, "Depart from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man."

God put a burning ember to Isaiah's lips. Jesus did something gentler for Peter. "Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching men." (Lk 5:10)

On October 16, 1978, a weary man sat in a Roman hotel. Even tho he achieved some success as a journalist, he felt he had reached the end of the line, that his life was worthless. He had made such a mess of things. On the table were several pills and a glass of whiskey. In the background a radio played with news of the papal election. A staccato Slavic voice said, "Do not be afraid." Hearing those words, something lifted in his heart. He swept the pills in a waste basket, poured the whiskey down the sink and believed he could rebuild his life. From now on you will be catching men.

A sense of failure can paralyze, even lead to suicide. But forgiveness provides incredible energy. In our second reading St. Paul calls himself "the least of the apostles, not fit to be called an apostle." How could he forget having held the coats of those who hurled rocks at deacon Stephen? But by the grace of God Paul worked harder than all the others. (I Cor 15:10)

St. Paul did not consider himself an "original thinker." If someone called him "creative," he would have defended himself against the charge. As he says in I Cor 15, he only strove to hand on what he himself had received. Let's conclude with that early profession of faith:

Christ died for our sins in accord with the Scriptures;
he was buried and,
in accord with the Scriptures, rose on the third day;
he was seen by Cephas, then by the Twelve. (I Cor 15:3-5) .

**********

* *In his poem, Hound of Heaven, Francis Thompson powerfully describes this flight from God - and his relentless pursuit of a soul

From Archives (Homilies for Fifth Sunday, Year C):

2016: New Beginning: Nowhere to Go But Up
2013: Like Fresh Walnuts
2010: Cleanse My Lips
2007: Before the Grandeur of God
2004: Not Worthy
2001: Do Not Be Afraid
1998: Unclean Lips

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