Do not be Afraid; Monday in the Eighteenth Week of Ordinary Time

Image: Footprints in the snow
Jeremiah 28.1-17 | Psalm 119 | Matthew 14.22-36

In today’s first reading, from the book of the Prophet Jeremiah, we meet a new prophet by the name of Hananiah. We find both Hananiah and Jeremiah trying to get the ear of the King as he looks for wisdom in how to lead his kingdom forward in troubled times.

Hananiah offers an optimistic forecast for what lays ahead. In his estimation the timeline for the people to come out from under the oppression of the foreign king of Babylon is far shorter than what anyone had imagined. King Zedekiah is thrilled to hear the news and even Jeremiah is impressed. Everyone wants to hear good news when times are tough and the one who brings such news is lauded and has the attention of all.

Despite his initial positive reaction to his colleague’s pronouncement, Jeremiah begins to question whether it can really be possible that they should overcome their problems so easily. The word of the Lord comes to him and his doubt is confirmed. He realizes that Hananiah is not preaching the truth but only trying to appease the king in order to enhance his own position.

Most of the time there are no easy answers to the really tough problems. In these times it does not do us any good to have the truth sugar coated or to deny that the problem exists. If we run from what is in front of us it does not go away, it remains an obstacle to our moving forward until we are willing to face it head on and do what it takes to breakthrough.

Denial is a defense mechanism that we use to prevent the feeling of fear from overwhelming us. It is usually the first reaction we have when we encounter something difficult to deal and it is perfectly natural. When we get bad news, we do not want to believe it, so we pretend it is not real. But we can not stay in denial for long. We need to return to reality in order to deal with the problem one way or another.

In the Gospel passage we find the disciples in a boat far from land, being battered by the wind and waves. This is a perfect metaphor for life when things are going bad. They are alone, afraid, and unsure what to do. They are probably wondering whether they will ever set foot on dry land again or whether this will be the end of them. When Jesus appears to them, walking across the water, their fear only increases, and they deny what their senses are telling them. But then the most important words come out of Jesus’ mouth, “Do not be afraid.”

When we face difficult situations, our faith in God allows us to let go of our fear. Like Peter, we can reach out our hand and pray, “Lord save us”, and Jesus will be there to help us along the way.

There is a very old story, which I first heard when I was a child and you have probably seen it before yourself. I feel that it offers a beautiful description of what I am trying to say this morning so I will reprint here for your reflection. The author is disputed but you can find out more about it in the link.

Footprints in the Sand

One night I had a dream…

I dreamed I was walking along the beach with the Lord, and
Across the sky flashed scenes from my life. For each scene I noticed two sets of footprints in the sand; One belonged to me, and the other to the Lord. When the last scene of my life flashed before us, I looked back at the footprints in the sand. I noticed that many times along the path of my life, There was only one set of footprints.

I also noticed that it happened at the very lowest
and saddest times in my life
This really bothered me, and I questioned the Lord about it.
“Lord, you said that once I decided to follow you,
You would walk with me all the way;
But I have noticed that during the
most troublesome times in my life,
There is only one set of footprints.
I don’t understand why in times when I
needed you the most, you should leave me.

The Lord replied, “My precious, precious
child. I love you, and I would never,
never leave you during your times of
trial and suffering.
When you saw only one set of footprints,
It was then that I carried you.