It is believed to be the phrase most used by Jesus in the Gospels:
“Do not be afraid”…
Around a dozen times (depending on the Bible translation), Jesus says some variation of this to his closest followers and others:
“Do not be afraid”, Jesus says when he calls the first disciples.
“Do not be afraid”, he says to his disciples as he gets ready to send them out on their own for the first time.
“Do not be afraid”, Jesus says to the women who come to tend to his body on Easter morning.
“Do not be afraid.”
I have seen and heard enough over the last few weeks to know that Jesus’ words are not the easiest to embrace right now. People – many people – are afraid right now.
Perhaps you are afraid right now.
If so, please be assured that you are not somehow being unChristian, unfaithful or spiritually lacking. Be assured that you are not dismissing or rejecting Jesus’ call. Because while the stories in the Gospels, and the Bible in general, are told from the perspective of particular instances at specific times, like all the best stories they are meant to speak to us in a much more general, universal way. They are meant to speak to us from the perspective of our common human condition.
And so while Jesus is encouraging the disciples and the women who came to tend to his body after his death (in truth, those women were also disciples, but that’s a conversation for another day), to not be afraid in those specific instances, those scenes are more about encouraging us to not be afraid in general. They are meant to tell us that from a spiritual perspective, it is one thing to be afraid at a particular time for a specific and valid reason. It is quite another to be afraid as a general way of being – as a consistent way of life. As a habit.
Jesus tells us, “Do not be afraid”, as a way of life because that way of being drains the life right out of us. As research has consistently demonstrated, fear as a habit negatively impacts the decision making ability and creativity we need to find solutions to our troubles, and also saps our emotional, spiritual and physical strength.
As it pertains to our current struggles with the Coronavirus, fear as a habit saps the very mental, emotional, spiritual and physical “immune systems” we need to overcome this pandemic with the least possible harm done. So while we should be “afraid” of the virus in a specific sense – take it as enough of a very real and serious concern to exercise appropriate, medically recommended precautions against – it will not serve us to live in constant fear. That kind of habitual fear leads to things like the spread of misinformation; the unnecessary hoarding of certain goods; states of anxiety and despair which actually lower our resistance to disease; and a sense of hopelessness which makes it more difficult for us to overcome this pandemic together as God’s people.
As we move through this time when the Coronavirus pandemic coincides with Holy Week and Easter, Jesus’ call to us is more important than ever. Let us answer that call by offering support, strength and encouragement to each other.
“Do not be afraid.”