Dt 6:2-6; Heb :23-28; Mk 12:28b-34
31st Sunday in Ordinary Time
What is “fear of the Lord”? It must be important, because the exhortation to the people of Israel to fear the LORD comes from Moses himself. The exhortation begins one of the central passages in all of the Old Testament, one that contains the Shema (“Hear, O Israel! The LORD is one….”). This prayer remains to this day the core expression of faith of the Jewish people. Recognizing that our roots as Christians grow deep into the Jewish faith, understanding this phrase properly must have great meaning for us as well.
Too often Christians totally misunderstand it. “Fear of the LORD” has absolutely nothing to do with being afraid of God. If we are afraid of God, then we are not living as people of the Covenant – the “new Israel” that the Church is called to be. People who are afraid of God live under the tyranny of Appeasement – the darkness of original sin which whispers within our hearts that we are alone and unloved in an indifferent universe. The darkness that overwhelms free will and drives us on a maddening chase to prove to god that we are worthy of god’s love and always falling short of the mark. To be afraid of god is to never have known God.
Fear of the Lord in the Biblical sense is the experience of being overwhelmed by Love. It can take many forms – the experience of love between two partners who have pledged before God and the community to love, honor and cherish one another for life, the unconditional love of a parent to a child or that contained in an act of selfless service or comapassion towards another. It can be an overwhelming experience of the beauty of nature, or a quiet, peaceful moment when one knows beyond any doubt that life is good and surely worth living. At it’s most powerful, it is the experience of the mystic who basks if only for a moment in the glow of God’s love for her or him and recognizes his or her own undeniable sacredness. A sacredness not grounded in anything one has done, but in God’s passionate love for each and every one of us.
Fear of the LORD does not leave us cowering in fear but breathless with joy. It does not lead us further into the darkness but into the light. It does not leave us feeling alone and unloved, but deeply connected – to others, to creation and to God him/herself. We can relax and rejoice as we realize that we are in the presence of something so much greater and glorious than ourselves which invites us to share in the same glory.
Let us pray this week that the Holy Spirit might fill us with this glorious sense of “fear” that will drive out any remnants of fear and doubt and darkness within us.
Jim Philipps (3rd millennium pilgrim)