We are living in scary times. For some of us, that is new; others of us have lived with a lack of safety for a long time. Right now, fear feels especially widespread, and much of our current fear is rational. In the midst of this fear, it is helpful to remember that we were always mortal and that we are called to love one another even in scary times. This is a reprint of the March 8 entry in Wondrous Love, Augsburg Fortress' Lent Devotional.
Matthew 14: 1-2, 5
Herod the ruler heard reports about Jesus; and he said to his servants, “This is John the Baptist; he has been raised from the dead, and for this reason these powers are at work in him.” . . . Though Herod wanted to put [Jesus] to death, he feared the crowd, because they regarded him as a prophet.
Herod symbolizes the terrible destruction that fearful people can leave in their wake if their fear is unacknowledged, if they have power but can only use it in furtive, pathetic, and futile attempts at self-preservation.
Herod’s fear is like a mighty wind; it cannot be seen, but its effects dominate the landscape. –Kathleen Norris, Amazing Grace
Fear is a “mighty wind” indeed. The wreckage left by the toxic wind of fear is evident everywhere. We are afraid of the unknown, afraid of one another, afraid of poor health, afraid of death, and afraid of what the future holds for our loved ones, congregations, and communities. Fearing that we won’t have enough, we hold tight to what we have and are reluctant to share. Fearing the claims of those who have been excluded or marginalized, we react with resentment, anger, and even violence.
Tyrants themselves experience fear, knowing that force cannot compel obedience forever. So it is with Herod the king. He imprisons John the Baptist and has him beheaded, but then fears that John has come back from the dead. Herod fears Jesus and his message of God’s kingdom too, but fear of the crowd prevents him from doing away with Jesus—for the time being, anyway.
Although the threat to Jesus’ life increases as we continue through Matthew’s gospel, Jesus keeps moving toward Jerusalem and the cross. He refuses to give in to fear or to answer violence with violence. On the cross we see the power of vulnerable love. In the resurrection, we witness love stronger than all our fears—even stronger than death.
Holy God, our fears keep us from loving and serving you and others. Drive out our fears with your perfect love. Amen.