Summary: To follow Christ, we have to overcome many fears.
Seeds for Sowing, Vol.V, Issue 2, No. 11
Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time - Year C
February 4, 2001
* Is. 6:1-2a, 3-8
* 1Cor. 15:1-11
* Lk. 5:1-11
The Fear of Following
The Unnamed Fear
I’m sure you’ve all heard of the fear of flying. Some people just can’t get over the fear of getting on a plane and taking off into the wild blue yonder. But have you heard of the fear of following? This is one fear that the psychologists haven’t yet got their hands on. But it is probably a much more common fear than the fear of flying. When Jesus called his followers, the one piece of advice that he gave them was, "Do not be afraid". Jesus knew what was in the hearts of people. He knew that the biggest obstacle to anyone following him was fear. So he encouraged them not to be afraid.
What are some of the things that make up this fear of following? Perhaps the biggest obstacle that gets in our way is the fear of being inadequate. Another name for this would be the fear of failure. If we take seriously this call to follow Christ, we are afraid that we will not be up to the task. And most of us would rather not start something if we think we can’t succeed at it. Most of us have never entered a marathon race because we know we couldn’t finish it. Most of us have not taken up sky diving because we are afraid of all the things that could go wrong, and fear we would end up dead or badly injured. Some of us have never even tried to bake a loaf of bread without a bread machine because we are afraid that it would come out of the oven looking like a brick, rather than a loaf. It’s amazing how fear keeps us from getting into so many things.
Standing on the Sidelines
It’s no great loss if we never overcome the fear of baking a loaf of bread, but it is a tremendous loss if we don’t overcome the fear of following Christ. Perhaps at this point in our lives, we are standing back and watching others giving themselves in service in the name of Christ. We see or know of people who are visiting the aged or the dying. We hear of some of our friends who work with the youth or with the handicapped. We read about those who give their lives in helping the poor. And we quietly say to ourselves, "What a beautiful gift they have. I’m so envious. I wish that I could do something so worthwhile with my life."
And so we allow a distorted image of ourselves to hold us back from giving the love and service so many others need. When Jesus asked Simon to put out into deep water, was he not telling him that he had to try again even though he might have failed in the past? And, as we know, putting out into the deep is a wonderful image for going places where we fear to go. The key here is the presence of Christ. Jesus will not allow us to go it alone. He promises his presence, his power, his support in whatever we do. So much good has gone undone because of this irrational fear of following that afflicts so many of us. If we could only imagine the lonely, the sick, the elderly caught in their isolation. They need us to be with them. They are not looking for saviours or messiahs. They just want a friend. Someone who will spend a little time with them, talking and listening. They don’t want to be saved--just cherished.
We Do Not Follow Alone
Simon Peter fell at the knees of Jesus saying, "Leave me, Lord; I am a sinful man." He didn’t think he was good enough to be in the presence of the Lord. But see how quickly Jesus reassured him saying, "Do not be afraid". We can be so thankful for the thousands upon thousands of people who put their fears aside to follow Christ. Any of us could plead incompetence or inadequacy or unworthiness. But none of this makes any sense in the eyes of Jesus, because we are acting in his name and with his power whenever we make the decision to follow him in our daily lives. Most emphatically we are not alone as we try to follow him.
Christ wishes to be made known to the world through us. The first disciples realized that they could not effectively follow Christ unless they left their job as fishermen. As disciples of Christ we are called to cut loose certain things in our lives if we hope to follow him. Could this be part of the fear that afflicts us when we think about following Christ? What will we have to let go of? A bit of TV? Our fear of failure? A few of our pleasures? Our insecurity? Our own distorted self-image? Often letting go of something is very painful. We can’t imagine how we could go on with our lives if we had to give up something that seemed so much a part of our daily lives. But remember that Jesus said that if we give up anything, we will receive it back a hundredfold, in this life and in the life to come.