If I asked the average Christian what is the greatest of God’s commandments, I suspect most would respond, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind, soul, and strength.” And, if I asked what is the second greatest commandment, I’m pretty sure most would respond, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Jesus said that all the Law and the Prophets depend on these two commandments. Like a door depends on its hinges.
If I asked what is the most frequent commandment in the canon of Scripture, I might not find such a strong consensus. But there is one commandment that is found in most books of the Bible. Often, it is spoken by God. Many times, it is spoken by an angel. Sometimes it is spoken by Jesus.
Here is the answer: The most frequent commandment in the Bible is
Do you recognize that? Probably not. It’s Hebrew and is pronounced Al tirah. Still don’t recognize it? Okay, I’ll bet you recognize the English translation FEAR NOT. This commandment appears 365 times in the canon of Scripture, once for every day of the year. In my review of the occasions in which the commandment is expressed, it seems that it is usually spoken in a situation in which anxiety is running very high. Now is one of those times.
Only this week, articles have been published describing the intentional use of anxiety to motivate people in the political process. The use of anxiety to motivate is not a new idea. It is customary in all unhealthy emotional systems, including religious communities. “Healing” those systems involves a decision on the part of each member to manage his/her own anxiety and to resist the efforts of those who use anxiety to motivate or influence others.
People are anxious about terrorists, gun rights, politicians, access to healthcare, the world economy, fluctuations in the market, job security, the Sunday morning schedule, and a host of other things that can be perceived as threatening to our lives or at least our way of life. Many are feeling that the situation around them has moved beyond their control. They feel powerless and maybe hopeless. When human beings reach such a state of anxiety, our primitive “fight or flight” program instinctively engages. When that happens, we lose some of our ability to reason. We might say or do all sorts of irrational and hurtful things as we express our anxiety and even take extreme, sometimes violent measures to regain control to protect ourselves, our loved ones, our values, and our possessions.
Our brains are designed to react in frightening situations. We have that in common with other living creatures, such as lizards. Without our survival instinct, our ancestors would not have made it. But human brains are also designed to help us reason and work with other humans in finding meaningful ways to respond to what threatens us.
When we don't use those God-given, uniquely human gifts, things go bad. Eucharistic Prayer C recalls that cause and effect relationship:
From the primal elements you brought forth the human race,
and blessed us with memory, reason, and skill. You made us
the rulers of creation. But we turned against you, and betrayed
your trust; and we turned against one another.
That’s where the most frequent Biblical commandment comes in. God who designed and equipped us to care for each other and oversee the entire creation, tells us not to let our fears conquer our faith, our hope, our love, and our reason! "Al tirah! Don’t be afraid!"
In spite of that, many people are anxious right now. Not everyone is having a good time. Not everyone feels secure. Small things are magnified so that they evoke reactions that are out of proportion to the facts. Even good news is frightening to some people.
So, let’s resolve to be a light in someone’s darkness. Let's take responsibility for and manage our own anxieties. Let’s take the time to listen to one another and honestly try to understand what is really being said. Let's seek and tell the truth, give the benefit of the doubt, exercise that part of our brain that facilitates reason, self-control, and compassion. Let's build trust. Let’s resolve to make our words and our actions to be expressions of the most frequent commandment. Let’s start with ourselves; look into the mirror and say, “Fear not!” Then, let’s find a way to help those around us conquer their own fears
The promise is that faith conquers fear. Our hope is that perfect love casts out fear.
I’ll see you in Church!
The Very Reverend Ronald D. Pogue
St. Andrew’s Cathedral