The definition of fear in the dictionary is this: an unpleasant emotion caused by the threat of danger, pain, or harm; be afraid of (someone or something) as likely to be dangerous, painful, or harmful.
With fear being defined as such, one of the difficult questions to give a simple straightforward answer would be “What do we fear most?” Simply speaking, there is no one predominant fear, because we have multiple fears.
But the word “fear” can be put into an acronym that can have two meanings:
F.E.A.R. – Forget Everything And Run
F.E.A.R. – Face Everything And Rise
So depending on which we choose, we can either let fear overcome us, or we can overcome our fears.
It is said that one of the greatest fears is the fear of death. That is probably true. But it is not just the fear of death. It is also the fear of a slow, painful, lonely death that makes us cringe.
In the 1st reading, we heard that Elijah went into a cave to spend a night in it. But it was not that he couldn’t find another place to sleep in. He went into the cave because he wanted to hide.
Earlier on at Mt. Carmel, Elijah had challenged the 400 false prophets, who were under the patronage of the evil pagan queen Jezebel, to a public contest to see whose God is more powerful.
The false prophets called on their god but nothing happened. When Elijah prayed, a fire came down from heaven and consumed the sacrifice.
Having shown the might and the power of the Lord God, Elijah had all the false prophets dragged into the valley where they were put to death.
But when queen Jezebel heard about this, she issued a death warrant for Elijah, and so he fled to the wilderness and he ended up in the cave for the night.
And it was there that the Lord called out to him. But before Elijah could hear the voice of the Lord, there was chaos – there was the mighty wind, an earthquake and a raging fire.
But after the chaos came the calm – the sound of a gentle breeze – and Elijah went out to meet the Lord.
It was the fear of the wicked Jezebel and the fear of death that made Elijah flee. In his fear, Elijah wanted to forget everything and run. Surely he would have prayed to God to save him. But God also responded in a rather mysterious way.
Before speaking to Elijah in the sound of the gentle breeze, there was the mighty wind, the earthquake and the fire. Elijah had to face all this chaos before he faced God.
So out of the chaos, God reveals Himself, but we have to first face the chaos, we have to face everything before we could rise and see God in everything.
Such was also the scenario in the gospel. It was deep into the night, there was the heavy sea and in all that chaos, they even thought that Jesus was a ghost.
It was a desperate and chaotic situation, but they can’t forget everything and run, because there was nowhere to run to, other than into a watery death.
So Peter’s reaction of wanting to walk on the water towards Jesus could be a desperate attempt to get out of a desperate situation. But along the way, he was overcome by the chaos around him and he gave in to fear and lost courage and sank.
So when fear shows its face, we can forget everything and run (if there is somewhere to run to) or we can face everything and rise. But to face everything and rise would also require some courage in the chaos.
There was a recent movie called “Hacksaw Ridge” set in WW II, which is based on a true story of a drafted soldier Desmond Doss, who wanted to be a combat medic but refused to carry firearms for religious reasons.
He was ostracized by fellow soldiers for his pacifist stance but went on to earn respect and adoration for his bravery, selflessness and compassion after he risked his life, without firing a shot, to save 75 men in the Battle of Okinawa.
On the battlefield of chaos and carnage, Desmond Doss could choose to forget everything and run for his life. But he chose to face everything and run into the chaos and carnage to save his injured comrades.
One memorable line from the movie was this, as Desmond Doss was running in to save the injured soldiers, he prayed: Please Lord, help me get one more, help me get one more.
But as with most war movies, there is plenty of violence and blood, but it also about courage in the midst of chaos and carnage, and how one man faced his fears and saved others by running into the fire instead of away from it.
So did Elijah after God had spoken to him. He went back to face his fears and continued his mission of being a prophet to God’s people.
As for Peter, there is a story in which Peter was fleeing from Rome to escape persecution, but on his way meets Jesus and asked Him "Where are you going, Lord?". To which Jesus says, "If you desert My people, I am going to Rome to be crucified a second time.” Upon hearing that Peter turned back to Rome to accept his martyrdom.
So Elijah, Peter and Desmond Doss faced their fears and rose as figures of courage in the midst of chaos.
When we have to face our fears may we have the courage to run into the chaos. And when we feel that we are sinking into our fears, let us remember how Peter cried out: Lord! Save me! We will feel the saving hand of Jesus.