When I was at school, I loved learning new words; two of my favourites were ‘onomatopoeia’ (which refers to the sounds of words being like what they describe such as ‘sizzle’ or ‘buzz‘) and ‘oxymoron’ (a figure of speech in which apparently contradictory terms appear in conjunction.) I thought about oxymorons this morning as I read Mark 10:32: ‘the disciples were astonished, while those who followed were afraid.’ Fearful followers? A similar oxymoron is found in Matt 28:17 after the resurrection, when we are told, ‘when they saw him, they worshipped him, but some doubted.’
The idea of fearful followers and doubting worshippers seems incongruous (another favourite word of mine.) How can we follow God when afraid, given His repeated encouragement not to fear? How can we worship wholeheartedly while still doubting?
There are no easy answers to these questions. We are complex people in whom all manner of contradictions live. Life is rarely as black and white as we would like; there are many shades of colour (even many shades of grey!)
As we stand on the threshold of Lent (today is Shrove Tuesday, tomorrow Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent, that 40 day period leading up to the greatest miracle the world has ever witnessed), ‘fearful followers and doubting worshippers’ seem to sum many of us up. We are bombarded with bad news on a daily basis: illness, rising costs of living, uncertainty, war. Even God’s word warns us of suffering and persecution (Jesus went on to speak to His disciples about His forthcoming death in Mark 10:33-34). And yet, at the very same time, hope flickers through, like the delicate snowdrop or the first light of dawn. We need not fear. We need not doubt. The Lord is still with us. The Lord is near.
Peter asks us what kind of people we ought to be (2 Pet 3:11) right after he has been teaching about the day of the Lord, the heavens disappearing with a roar, the elements being destroyed by fire, the earth being laid bare (2 Pet 3:10) – apocalyptic, scary stuff. Not for him the fatalistic pessimism you might expect or the hedonistic ‘eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow we die’ attitude of others. No, his advice is to live holy and godly lives, making every effort to be found spotless, blameless and at peace with God. (2 Pet 3:11, 14) We are called to shine like stars in the universe, holding to the word of life. (Phil 2:15-16).
The world has enough fear and doubt to last a lifetime. God’s people are called to lay down fear and doubt and be filled with the faith, hope and love Jesus has died to purchase for us. If you want to give up anything for Lent, resolve to give up fear and doubt, no matter how dark things may look. After all, the days leading up to Easter Sunday were dark, but God still reversed the doom of death through the resurrection of Jesus. We are on the winning side; may faith, hope and love be our daily fuel as we walk through this Lent period and beyond.