The Readings for Saturday, 3rd Week of Ordinary Time (B2):
Et ait illis : Quid timidi estis? necdum habetis fidem?
And he said to them: Why are you fearful? have you not faith yet?
July 4th, 1981, I was sitting behind the elementary school with my friends Faith, Marc, Denis, Jody… we were all there to watch the annual fireworks display. These were shot off from behind an oak tree that grew at the back of the playground by the village sheriff. We could see him now, moving in the twilight, setting up the tubes and things. As he shot off each one, Faith would lead us in a sound, “OOOOOOOO” or “AHHHHHH”, etc. We were annoying folks around us, but it was fun, sitting on the blanket, sipping out of little Budweiser nips, and not yet being of age.
About 10 minutes into the program, a rocket went up (Faith had us ready to cry, “Ohhhhhhh”). But then, after about 20 feet it gave up and the rocket came down. We watched it bounce.
But then… it exploded! (The Sheriff had the sense to run, duck and cover). And there was an amazing amount of chaos: because the exploding rocket caught all the other fireworks and lit them all! There were rockets going everywhere. An entire 40 mins of remaining program including the grand finale went off in about 5 minutes. It was intense. It was astonishing. It has ruined me for fireworks because I tell this story every year and no fireworks display can ever match it.
The mob of people were running into the forest, off to the farm field next door, or out towards the parking lot.
Faith sat motionless and so, so did all of us. And we saw the intense beauty and humor of it all. And we drank our beers as people screamed.
Then we applauded.
Faith said to my Mom later, “I figured if one of those rockets was meant for me, running into the woods wouldn’t have helped, so I sat there.”
So, Jesus: say the Apostles. You see here, we’re about to be killed! Why are we afraid? You were asleep and we were just three splashes short of a full bucket here, and going under fast. Why are we afraid? Right. How can you sleep? You have to admit the Apostles would have had any reason at all to yell back something like this. The English makes it sound that way, anyway: almost as if Jesus stood up and said, “What, this? You call this a storm? That’s not a storm…”
|That’s not a knife…|
But Jesus asks a rather more interesting question in the Greek (and in Latin): Why are you timid? Do you not yet have faith? The Latin timidi is a perfect rendition of the Greek δειλός deilos. Both of those would be a perfect name for the Lion in the Wizard of Oz (δειλό λιοντάρι). And we know from that story that the lion is lacking Courage… which means heart. (Middle English [denoting the heart, as the seat of feelings]: from Old French corage, from Latin cor ‘heart.’). The Greek, deilos means the same thing only worse:
1169 deilós (an adjective derived from deidō, “fear-driven”) – properly, dreadful, describing a person who loses their “moral gumption (fortitude)” that is needed to follow the Lord.
1169 /deilós (“fearful of losses”) refers to an excessive fear (dread) of “losing,” causing someone to be fainthearted (cowardly) – hence, to fall short in following Christ as Lord.
[1169 /deilós is always used negatively in the NT and stands in contrast to the positive fear which can be expressed by 5401 /phóbos (“fear,” see Phil 2:12).]
Lacking moral gumption. OK. And fearful of losses and because of that fear falling short… a level of fear that causes you to back down in the service of Jesus.
Once, meditating on the roots of anger, I found fear. Not Phobos, but Deilos. And I’ve been praying for Cojones de Latón ever since. The curious thing is that one doesn’t need to be scared of anything. I can get up and move 3,000 miles tomorrow: find a new job, make new friends, make a real go of it. I’ve done that so many times that I could write a how-to manual called “How to Quit, Move 3,000 Miles and Start Over Anytime You Want.” I’ve walked on outdoor ledges 3″ wide 6 floors above Manhattan, I’ve walked in parts of several cities in which I’m supposed to be terrified. But I’m not.
But I am more worried about offending the persons who control my lease or my paycheck than I am about offending Jesus. And that shows up in a false bravado, a weak-willed acquiescence, a persecution complex, and a simmering stew of emotions that run the gamut from “why can’t I get anything done?” to “one day I may find a new job”.
Jesus posits a curious solution to this timidity: Necdum habetis fidem? Have ye not yet faith? Faith is the answer. Faith in what, though? What is this faith of which you speak? Faith is different from assurance or confidence.
|I have confidence in meeeeeee|
Faith is trust. Faith is trust in God. Jesus can sleep through a storm (or an Earthquake), or walk through an Angry Mob (or a trial), because he knows his heavenly Father has got it all under control. Yes, he had some doubts and fears in Gethsemane, and he asked for help… but he never gave in to them.
Trust. The Greek word rendered “Faith” here is πίστις pistis and it’s not the blindness of belief. Rather it’s the assurance of knowing. In Greek one has pistis in a contract. One has πίστις in a marriage. The Latin prayer called the Act of Faith begins, Domine Deus, firma fide credo et confiteor… “Lord God, with a firm faith I believe an I confess… The Greek version of the Nicene Creed begins “Pisteuo” or “I trust…”
When Jesus says, Why are you timid? Why do you not yet have faith?” He’s asking, flat out, Which part of God’s Got This are you missing?
(I make no apologies because her name really is Faith)
I wonder, though what makes us think anything else in this world works differently? If God’s got this… then whatever is happening is what’s best for me: for my salvation, for my journey home. What I need to do is find the best dance for now. What is not acceptable is to run away, to hide, to chicken out, or to back down.
I’m currently reading a Biography of St Catherine of Siena. Of all the amazing things she did, the thing that surprises me most is not that she rebuked the Pope for being in Avignon, but why she did so: he was there because Rome had riots and wars and it was scary. She knew though, that the Bishop of Rome belonged with his people. The popes were scared and running: and that’s no way for a Christian to make decisions, certainly not a Christian leader, and especially the Vicar of Christ.
So what about my fear problem? Or, what about our fear problem? We don’t get to go hide in the hills just because there’s war, or rumors of wars, or laws we don’t like. The late Francis, Cardinal George, Archbishop of Chicago, once said
I expect to die in bed, my successor will die in prison and his successor will die a martyr in the public square.
We’re not there yet, but the prophecies of section 17 in Humanae Vitae are coming true. And we may not have long to wait. Come what may, though: The Lion of Judah ain’t no Dandy Lion to go hide in a cave until the terror is over. Christians don’t get to run away when things get tough. They stay put, they raise their kids in the faith, they serve the Gospel, they proclaim the truth, and they get killed.
That’s the will of God and so they go rejoicing, forgiving their oppressors, blessing those that curse them, and praying for those that kill them. The blood of the Martyrs is the seed of the Church.
Cardinal George’s quote ends rather more hopeful than it began: His successor will pick up the shards of a ruined society and slowly help rebuild civilization, as the church has done so often in human history.
That’s faith. God’s got this.