October 16, 2015
“I tell you, my friends,
do not be afraid of those who kill the body
but after that can do no more.
I shall show you whom to fear.
Be afraid of the one who after killing
has the power to cast into Gehenna;
yes, I tell you, be afraid of that one.
Are not five sparrows sold for two small coins?
Yet not one of them has escaped the notice of God.
Even the hairs of your head have all been counted.
Do not be afraid.
You are worth more than many sparrows.”
- Jesus, from Luke ch. 12
When I read the gospel reading for today this morning, I could imagine very clearly how Jesus said this last sentence. It’s not a sentence that I picture Jesus saying very seriously, with warning and firmness, like the rest of this pretty darn serious passage, but rather, I picture Jesus saying this with a twinkle in his eye, knowing that His people have no idea how much they are worth, but He is already willing to pay the ultimate price for their souls. He has the twinkle in His eye because He knows that the worth of a human cannot be calculated; there’s not a certain amount of sparrows that would be equivalent to the value of a human soul. And! Even the sparrows, the cheap little sparrows, have the full attention and care of God the Almighty. Jesus is meeting the people where they are, in their worldly system of exchange, price, and thus, worth, that they can see and barter in, but He is making them aware of the greater reality of incalculable grace, or God’s good will and provision. In short, worldly worth does not provide any indication for anything or anyone’s ultimate worth in the eyes of their Creator.
Jesus is trying to take their understandings of fear and worth and flip them upside-down. Not only are those concepts related within the human person (e.g. we are fearful when something that is of great worth is threatened to be taken away from us), each person’s understanding of each concept is related to the worldly understanding of life. Fear is both an automatic, subconscious process (e.g. you can’t control how you are afraid of bears… or bees) AND a process that can be conditioned by your surroundings. Jesus is taking a very real fear of dying, being killed, having something that is seemingly worth everything (your life) taken away from you, and telling humans NOT to be afraid of this possible outcome. It is almost like He is preaching to himself, tying down His human fear, inherited in His Human Body, and wrestling it to the ground with words. He is reminding us that the life we should want to protect is the life of our soul, not our body.
“I shall show you whom to fear” - what words! They are ominous, because they imply that people have been fearing things and people who are not worth fearing, but that there exists someone who is. So, that makes this passage a bit confusing: OK, Jesus, you tell us whom to fear, and he sounds pretty scary, but You tell us to “not be afraid”? To me, I reconcile these words with the difference between fear as a continuous state and fear as something specific and motivating - it’s pretty clear to me that Jesus does not want us to live with fear as a consistent motivator, but that fear of the evil one will help us know our worth, as well as our place as the saved, under the One Who Saves. Jesus has yet to show them physically, in His Body on the Cross, how much they are worth, how much we all are worth.
When I was suffering from a bout of depression in my time abroad in Florence, Italy, I had the best (and most expensive) phone conversation with my friend Elizabeth. After hearing my self-loathing and sadness (for an amount of time that I will not disclose), she said simply, “Whenever you question what you’re worth, look at the Cross.” This is the simple beauty of Christian faith, my friends: how effects of such a complex, paradoxical event like the Cross can manifest goodness by simply thinking or gazing upon it; truth pierces through us when we think of the Cross. I invite you today, on this Friday, the day that we remember the Lord’s Passion, to take five minutes to sit, be silent, and simply call to mind Jesus on the Cross, thinking of your heart and life in His Mind, and your sins borne in His Body.
Jesus, son of the living God, have mercy on me, a sinner. Help me to fear the one I should fear, and entrust that fear to You, the Conqueror.