Do Not Be Afraid: The Heart of Discipleship
Today’s Gospel of John’s account of the calming of the seas, which is well known to many Christians, reveals a core dimension of what it means to be a disciple of Christ.
It’s curious that this pre-passion, pre-resurrection narrative makes its appearance in the liturgical season of Easter that continues for weeks to come. Why is it that the church has thought it wise to share this particular story at this point in our liturgical cycle?
I believe the answer rests in the profundity of the short and misleadingly simple message: “Do not be afraid.”
Here is the heart of Christian discipleship, though it may not seem so apparent to us at first.
In nearly all of Jesus’s post-resurrection and glorified appearances to the disciples, the Gospel accounts include a version of these words — don’t be afraid. The reason this is so important is that fear is the enemy of discipleship, it is that disposition and outlook that is the opposite of what it means to life the Gospel, the Good News.
To quote the fictional sage character from the Star Wars series, Yoda, “Fear is the path to the dark side. Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering.” The final line’s closer affinity to Buddhism notwithstanding, Yoda’s line is well put in the Christian context. Fear is what leads to anger, hate, violence, greed and, indeed, suffering.
Fear prevents good people from doing the right thing, leads good people to care only for themselves, leads good people to harm others, leads to sin.
Jesus’s message to us after being raised from the dead is to not be afraid. But this is not a new message. This story of the calming of the seas highlights how Jesus had preached and taught this message throughout the entirety of his ministry.
May we listen to the words of the Christ and fear not, for the God of Jesus Christ is greater than death; greater than all our fears.