September 16, 2013
Dear brothers and sisters,
I am taking the good news today from Luke 18:31-34.
Then he took the Twelve aside and said to them, “Behold, we are going up to Jerusalem and everything written by the prophets about the Son of Man will be fulfilled. He will be handed over to the Gentiles and he will be mocked and insulted and spat upon, and after they have scourged him they will kill him, but on the third day he will rise.” But they understood nothing of this; the word remained hidden from them and they failed to comprehend what he said.
I have been amazed looking back over my life how often I lived in denial. At first my mind just can’t grasp the really hard truth; it is too much shock and too painful to bear. So, denial is often a way of protecting myself for a while at least. But denying something doesn’t make it go away. I think that’s what the apostles were experiencing and not even Jesus could free them from their fear, not until after his resurrection.
Jesus could have denied the looming cross for a time at least. He could have let fear overcome his courage to accept the suffering and cruel death he was about to face. But he didn’t hide from it. He didn’t because he had absolute trust in His Father’s love and knew with certainty that he would rejoin Him in heaven. That’s where he derived his courage to face the truth, the reality of suffering and death. Henri Nouwen writes in Lifesigns, “When St. John says that fear is driven out by perfect love, he points to a love that comes from God, a divine love. He does not speak about human affection, psychological compatibility, mutual attraction, or deep interpersonal feelings. All of that has its value and beauty, but the perfect love about which St. John speaks embraces and transcends all feelings, emotions, and passions. The perfect love that drives out all fear is the divine love in which we are invited to participate. The home, the intimate place, the place of true belonging, is therefore not a place made by human hands. It is fashioned for us by God, who came to pitch his tent among us, invite us to his place, and prepare a room for us in his own house.”
I also recognize in looking back that my denial dissipated, my fear subsided, when I was able to turn to God and receive His perfect love. His love has always been there, of course, along with His invitation to rest in it. I first looked to myself, my own powers, to overcome my fears, and then I looked to others. To no avail. Nouwen writes, “Our wounds, whether visible or hidden, are too deep for us to offer each other a place totally free from fear. We often put superhuman demands on each other and when these demands are not met we feel hurt and rejected….God alone is free enough from wounds to offer us a fearless space.”
That’s the difference between Jesus and all of us including his apostles. He lived in a fearless space where he experienced his Father’s perfect love. Denial and fear are signs that I am not participating in God’s perfect love. I’m not sure why that’s so hard for me to do. Maybe it’s because as Nouwen writes, “Fear is one of the most effective weapons in the hands of those who seek to control us….The agenda of our world — the issues and items that fill newspapers and newscasts — is an agenda of fear and power. It is amazing, yes frightening, to see how easily that agenda becomes ours. The things and people we think about, worry about, reflect upon, prepare ourselves for, and spend time and energy on are in large part determined by a world which seduces us into accepting its fearful questions….A huge network of anxious questions surrounds us and begins to guide many, if not most of our daily decisions. Clearly, those who can pose these fearful questions which bind us within have true power over us. For hidden under their questions lies the threat that not following their directions will make our worst fears come true.”
By the time I encountered God as an adult, He had His work cut out for him in undoing the fears that have dominated my life. It’s been a long, long process. Finally, I am more able to say to myself “I am” instead of “I am not.” To say “I can” instead of “I can’t.” To know that I am loved rather than continually seeking confirmation and affirmation from others. It has only become possible by recognizing His indwelling spirit and participating some of the time in His perfect love for me. My journey in fearlessness toward death and the resurrection is still a long one, though.