“[D]o not be afraid.” I read once that someone counted 365 times in the New Testament where Jesus tells his followers not to be afraid – once for every day of the year.
What were they so afraid of? Storms at sea that capsized their boats? Enemy attacks that destroyed their cities? Too much heat and not enough rain?
In fact, they were probably afraid of many of the same things that we are afraid of. We are afraid of terrorists and global warming; of aging and the loss of health care. We are afraid that we are too fat, afraid we are too thin; afraid to go out, afraid to stay home; afraid to fly, afraid to drive; afraid of losing a job, afraid of losing a relationship; afraid, it seems, of everything from Alzheimer’s to bad breath.
At Jesus’ command Peter got out of the boat and began to walk toward him on the water. “But when he saw how strong the wind was he became frightened” and that’s when he started to sink.
Now we are getting somewhere. Jesus tells us not to be afraid, but then that wind starts blowing. You know the one, the wind that says “watch out for that person ahead of you in line at the airport” or “don’t trust people from certain countries,” a cold, frightening wind.
Peter called out, “Lord, save me!” and immediately Jesus reached out and caught him. Peter had started out trusting Jesus enough to step out of the boat, out of his comfort zone, and begin walking across the water. But then he “… saw how strong the wind was …” and the fear came back. He began to doubt – and then he began to sink.
Jesus invites us to come to him when we are afraid. But sometimes the wind seems too strong and, like Peter, we hesitate. We want to believe, but then the waves threaten to overwhelm us and we begin to doubt. We cry out, “Lord, save me!” and Jesus tells us not to be afraid. He reaches out his hand to catch us. The question is, do we trust him enough to take it?
Van Benthem is a member of the Secular Franciscan Order and a longtime pastoral minister in the diocese.