“Do you still not understand?” (Mark 8:21).
Jas 1:12-18; Mark 8:14-21
One of the most frequently uttered phrases by Jesus in the Gospels is “Do not be afraid.” If we think about it, what is the most undermining and limiting factor in our daily lives, the thought or feeling that keeps us from being at peace, deliberate and confident in our tasks and hopeful about the future? It is fear, and not just direct fear based on real threat, but the kind of floating anxiety that gnaws at our sense of well-being and shadows even our accomplishments and good deeds. We could always have done better. We made mistakes. People judge us. Something is wrong and bad luck is just around the corner, either for us of for people we care about.
Jesus wanted his disciples to understand that God’s mercy was already theirs. He wanted them to experience the Good News he was sending them out to share with others. The ultimate victory over sin and death was already assured. He had come to give them abundant life no one could take away from them. This was their strength to accompany him to Jerusalem where he would lay down his life. Yes, they would endure suffering and loss, but the rebirth they were about to undergo would end in joy.
The miracle they had just witnessed (Mark 8:1-10) when Jesus fed over 4,000 people was a sign of God’s providence. Jesus was himself the “Bread of Life,” able to fill any hunger they could imagine. Physical food was just the surface of the abundance God was offering them, so “Don’t be afraid.” What frustrated Jesus was that his own disciples were so easily infected with the fear the scribes and Pharisees used to control people—fear of breaking a law, committing a sin, falling out of favor with a god who was always watching and judging them, demanding sacrifices and penances, ready to inflict some test or punishment on them to keep them in line.
So, in the boat, he told them to be on their guard against the “leaven” of the Pharisees and of Herod, another source of threat used to intimidate people. Leaven is the perfect metaphor to describe fear—a hidden enzyme, invisible, tasteless and undetectable until it pervades all the other ingredients and, when heated, rises and takes over. Small anxieties instill doubt, then fear, then paralysis, loss of courage and hope. But the disciples still didn’t get it. They think he is talking about a bread shortage. If they were anxious about little things, would they be ready of Jerusalem?
What if we were to take Jesus at his word and spend a day without fear, asking him to guide us through our tasks and encounters free of anxiety, knowing that whatever happens, he is there to bless us? Free of fear about ourselves, we have that much energy to expend in compassion and comforting others. At the end of the day, if the results are good, end with a prayer of gratitude before sleep.