12th Sunday of Ordinary Time (Ages 9-12): Fear of the LORD
(Begin by reading the Gospel. Sometimes it is good to have someone read it to you. The Word is meant to be heard.)
In the Gospel for this Sunday, Jesus performs a miracle. Usually, when Jesus performs a miracle, we are given a glimpse of what the Kingdom of God will be like in all its fullness. For a moment, we share God's vision of the Kingdom. In the Gospel for this Sunday, the miracle gives us, instead, a glimpse of the King.
On that day, when evening had come, he said to them, “Let us go across to the other side.” And leaving the crowd behind, they took him with them in the boat, just as he was. Other boats were with him.
This Gospel passage takes place after a long day of preaching about the Kingdom of God. Jesus has spent a lot of time telling parables, like the one about the Mustard Seed, and the one about the person who does not know how his seed grows. Now Jesus is tired and seeking some rest. They will cross to the other side of the Sea of Galilee, away from the crowds.
A great windstorm arose, and the waves beat into the boat, so that the boat was already being swamped. But he was in the stern, asleep on the cushion
Why does Jesus sleep? He is not disturbed by the great windstorm and the water that threatens to sink the boat. He simply sleeps. The disciples, frankly, are freaked out. It is unlikely they recall the parable Jesus told just a short while ago, about the person who sleeps, not knowing how the seed grows. That person sleeps, we know, because he has complete trust that God is at work. We wonder if Jesus sleeps for the same reason.
they woke him up and said to him, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?”
In their fear, the disciples turn to Jesus. They seem to be angry with him for not caring that they are going to die. Sometimes, when people are frightened, their fear shows itself as anger. We see this when our parents think we are lost, and they get angry at us when we are found. Really, they were just scared that we might be gone forever.
We notice next what Jesus does not do. Jesus does not rebuke the disciples for their anger or for waking him up. He does not argue with them. Jesus does not explain that they must have faith. He does not even say, "Be not afraid." Instead, he does not delay. When the disciples fear, Jesus acts.
He woke up and rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, “Peace! Be still!” Then the wind ceased, and there was a dead calm.
Here is the miracle. Jesus commands, and the wind ceases, and the sea becomes calm. We cannot do that. No one can. But Jesus does. What do the disciples think of that?
It is possible they remember one of the psalms, those ancient prayers found in scripture, that they have known since they were little:
Then they cried to the LORD in their trouble,
and he brought them out from their distress;
he made the storm be still,
and the waves of the sea were hushed. (Psalm 107:28-29)
The disciples cry out to Jesus in their trouble, and he brings them out from their distress. Jesus makes the storm be still. When Jesus speaks, the waves of the sea are hushed. No wonder the disciples ask,
“Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?”
The answer might be there in the psalm.
The disciples do not say it out loud, but it is clear that deep inside, they know who he is. The scripture says,
they were filled with great awe
"Wonder and awe" is a gift of the Holy Spirit. Another name for wonder and awe is "Fear of the LORD." If they are filled with awe, they know that they are in the presence of the LORD, and the LORD is God.
When they are full of fear, the disciples cry out to Jesus who acts to save them. But when he saves them, they are full of Fear of the LORD. From fear to fear? What is going on here?
Scripture makes it clear that there are two kinds of fear. There is the fear that confuses, that clouds our heads, that causes us to lash out in anger. This is terror, and it is the opposite of faith.
“Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?”
It is clear that Jesus does not want them to be afraid. They cannot be afraid and follow him freely. Perhaps this is why Jesus does not walk around proving to everybody that he is the LORD. Perhaps this is why he lets people wonder about him and ask themselves questions. Perhaps this why God does not show his glory at all times. People would be forced to believe. They would not follow freely.
The other kind of fear is very different. Fear of the LORD is wonder and awe at all the marvellous things that God does in our lives. Fear of the LORD is that sudden awareness that God is near. Fear of the LORD is that realization, deep inside, that we know the answer to the question, "Who then is this?" We have come to the realization on our own. We follow because we want to. We follow freely.
What do we do then, when life causes us to be afraid? We do not want Jesus to say to us, "Have you no faith?" Like the disciples, we can cry out to Jesus, knowing that when we are afraid, Jesus acts. Then we can toss our fears overboard, and curl up to sleep on the cushion in the stern of the boat. We trust that God is at work. We call upon the gift of Fear of the LORD, given to us in Baptism. With Fear of the LORD, we acknowledge that deep down, we are not alone, and we follow freely.