A Prayer for a Humble Fear of God, Mark Altrogge, Crosswalk.com.
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The eyes of God are on those who fear him… Sirach 15:13.
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“The fear of the Lord”. “To put the fear of God” into someone; I have wondered for years what the “fear of the Lord” is all about, and today’s first reading from the Book of Sirach has it right there. What on earth does it mean? Almost all definitions of the word “fear” give us the usual understanding of it, to be scared or even terrified of someone or something because something bad might happen to us. Should we be terrified of God if we have done all in our power to be God’s faithful children? True, we can always do more if we really try, but with a reasonably clear conscience, do we still have to “fear the Lord”? There was, apparently, in Old English, a special word for a feeling of dread and reverence for the Lord, closely related to the other word for fear, but it merged into our modern understanding many years ago. So I started to think about any modern experience that might equate with this peculiar understanding of the word. There is a story about a meeting of two of the great women of our time, the actress Helen Mirren, and the late Queen Elizabeth. Mirren was highly praised for her Oscar-winning portrayal of Queen Elizabeth in the 2006 movie called The Queen. Well she revealed on an Oprah show that she was invited to take tea with the Queen, and she was “terrified”at the prospect. Now here’s a woman quite at home in front of hundreds of people on a daily basis scared to meet one special woman. So it was beyond stage fright I imagine. She had no reason to be scared of the Queen, a woman who devoted her whole life to the service and care of others through bad times and good; it is inconceivable that she was going to attack the actress if she disliked her depiction of her! But Dame Helen was terrified of meeting her. Is that a model for the “fear” we should feel before God? The Lord is immeasurably greater and grander than any human being, so perhaps, yes, we should fear him for the right reasons. Who are we, mere mortals, to stand before the Lord of All? But, I think, just like Queen Elizabeth had a sure way of putting those she met at ease, we believe in a God of Love who has no reason or motive to terrify us, but I think we have every reason to approach God with deepest respect, awe, even trembling and fear, for we approach the very source of all that is right and good, compared to whom we are all, shall we say, lacking… Perhaps that is what Scripture is talking about with the word “fear”.
And in case we might think that we are not doing too badly in our vocation as children of God in the model above, let’s look at today’s gospel, the shorter form. It talks about how we might reasonably hope for admission to eternal happiness with God. Well, the actions which endanger that are clear enough. Simply looking at another person with lust is a sin in the eyes of God. Unwarranted anger is an offense in the eyes of God. And, on the other hand, standing by the agreements and understandings we have made in good conscience with others must be upheld, our “yes” meaning yes and our “no” meaning no. Looking back a month or so, I challenge myself and you if we can absolutely state before God we have not broken any of those guidelines, and to make sure, look at the longer gospel… If guilty, we have a real reason to approach the Lord in fear, but this time with different fear, the one known to us all. We all know what we are supposed to do in our behavior, our sense of worth, our identity as children of God, and so on. But do we act that way at all times and in all circumstances? Aye, there’s the rub.
Who Can Stand Before this Holy God? Craig Brian Lawson, Preaching Today.
Reflections on next Sunday’s Mass Readings will be posted on Wednesday.
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