Presentation of the Lord
02/02/2003
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Don't Be Afraid
Father Tim Lemlin


A few years ago a teacher noticed one of her students, a shy young girl, having trouble working out her arithmetic assignment. The teacher went to the child quietly and asked if she could help with any questions, knowing the girl was timid about asking for help. When the problem was sorted out the little girl thanked the teacher. The teacher told the student not to be shy about asking questions, "That's one of the reasons I am here," the teacher said.

The little girl thought about that for a moment and asked quietly, "What's the other reason?"

Once our minds have settled upon something that we believe to be true, we have a very difficult time changing our perspective. It took, for example, close to two thousand years for someone to challenge the belief put forth by Aristotle that a heavier object falls more quickly than a lighter object. Even when it was proven undeniably, people still doubted.

Early in Jewish history, the Jewish people migrated into a land in which human sacrifice was an accepted way of life. The denizens would sacrifice the first of everything, including their first-born male child, to appease God. That God needed appeasement was evident in the disasters that the people believed God caused: earthquakes, crop destroying pestilence, droughts, severe weather, and disease.

The Jewish people eventually eliminated human sacrifice, but they continued in the belief the God needed to be appeased. We get traces of this reality in the Genesis story when Abraham, we are told, is instructed to sacrifice his first-born son, Isaac. Hence, during the lifetime of Jesus, close to 80% of the economy in the City of Jerusalem was Temple related. A major portion of this 80% was animal sacrifice.

Fear and God, throughout the scriptures, are synonymous. Whenever the divine encounters the human in the scriptures the first words spoken are, "Do not be afraid." It seems to be part of the human psyche to fear God. It also seems to be part of what it means to be human to attempt to make God love and reward us - to earn God's respect.

When Jesus is presented in the Temple, it is to fulfill the Jewish ritual of sacrificing to God the first-born male by substituting a pair of birds. (Poor people sacrificed birds. Rich people sacrificed bulls and cows.) The gospel writer purposely tells us this story to point out the sign of contradiction that Jesus is.

God, through Jesus, tells us that we don't need to be afraid of God. We don't need to sacrifice to God to appease God or to make God love and reward us. God has always and will always love us first. The sign of contradiction is God shedding blood for us; God sacrificing to us. This is the significance of the crucifixion - it is the sign of contradiction to our way of thinking.

Two thousand years have passed since the crucifixion and still we make sacrifices to God in order to appease God or to get God to love and reward us. Points of view are difficult to change. Rituals are even harder to change. Yet, we are not without hope. God never tires of loving us and finding ways to help us see. God continues to whisper in our ears, "Don't be afraid."


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