How can I love my neighbor as myselfThese lines written in 1989, remind us that the command to love others by Jesus is difficult, especially as we consider those we fear, the enemy all around us and even inside of us, for fear drives out love. And yet, that is what Jesus calls us to do, to love one another and to live in peace. There is that old song that says
When I need him as my enemy –
When I see in him the self I fear to own
And cannot love?
How can there be peace on earth
While our hostilities are our most
Cherished possessions –
Defining our identity,
Confirming our innocence?
-Eric Symes Abbott
“they will know we are Christians by our love, by our love, yes they will know we are Christians by our love.”And yet, too often they know we are Christians not by our love, but by our fear. Fear that controls us that makes us judgmental, critical, that sees enemies all around us. Instead of the liberating, freeing Gospel, we live in fear with an oppressive religiosity, and we forget that God given love that is always with us and we need to share.
In our first reading, after Elijah confronted the prophets of Jezebel and Ahab, he fled fearing for his life. Along his journey, he is constantly ministered to by angels of God, but he is not comforted. His life is threatened, he lives in fear, and he travels a long way to reach an isolated cave on the mount of God (Horeb). Now he will be safe. But in the sheer silence of that cave, Elijah recognizes the power of God and leaves when God tells him to return to Damascus. It is as if all that fear that consumed Elijah, making him flee, is transformed in that silence, for God was there and Elijah understood in the deepest part of his self that he needed to have faith in what God was asking of him.
It is also true of us, just when we want to flee to the hills, run away from what we fear, God asks us to be faithful. For it is God who stands with us in all things, even in our fear, ready to embrace us. And like Elijah we must be ready to follow what God asks of us, as our hymn put it,
“I have decided to follow Jesus – no turning back!”In our Gospel reading, Jesus entered the area of the Gerasenes outside the Decapolis, a gentile region, he is confronted with a man filled with demons. He lived alone among the tombs, naked, separated from his home & community. In a symbolic way, this man whose demons are known as “Legion” – a Latin term for a unit of the Roman army comprising of 3000 to 6000 soldiers, is not only possessed personally, but the whole region with the Roman occupation is possessed. The demons know who Jesus is, and Jesus having compassion for the man, casts out the demons into swine, who plunge into the lake, and the man comes to his right mind.
But the people are very afraid. Jesus heals the possessed, casts out the demons. The people are not ready for such an act, and they ask Jesus to leave. Jesus sends the man home and tells him to proclaim all that God has done for him. He becomes the evangelist to the people living in fear in that community. Again God acts in the midst of fear, reminding us that God is in charge, no demon, no legion, will stop that. But we have to believe that or our own fears will take charge.
I think of a poem:
“Enemies” by Wendell BerryLove & forgiveness, compassion for others – all marks of a Christian. We need to resist the fear in ourselves and in our society or else we become the enemy we abhor and fear lives on in us. Today, may we trust in God to guide us so that we can overcome our fears with faith, and be the Christians that God needs us to be in our world today. As Thomas Merton put it
If you are not to become a monster,
you must care what they think.
If you care what they think,
how will you not hate them,
and so become a monster
of the opposite kind? From where then
is love to come---love for your enemy
that is the way of liberty?
From forgiveness. Forgive, they go
free of you, and you of them;
they are to you as sunlight
on a green branch. You must not
think of them again, except
as monsters like yourself,
pitiable because unforgiving.
“I will not fear, for You [O Lord] are ever with me, and You will never leave me to face my perils alone.”Amen.
Fear knocked at the door and faith answered. No one was there. - Old English Proverb
Don't let the fear of striking out hold you back. - Babe Ruth