Fear is the Father of Our Sins

We’ll never understand the struggle between love and hate until we also recognize their closest living relatives: wisdom and ignorance. We tend to believe that hate appears in the absence of love, but this Sunday’s mass readings teach us something we rarely take to heart: the consequences of fear filling the void left by our lack of knowledge. Too often that is the breeding ground for hate. President Franklin D. Roosevelt showed great wisdom when he said the only thing we have to fear is fear itself. This Sunday’s mass readings teach us the consequences of our fear as they contrast God’s knowledge with man’s.

In our first reading (Jer 1:4-5, 17-19), the prophet Jeremiah is strengthened by God’s knowledge of him. It gives him the power to take on the role for which God created him:

“The word of the LORD came to me, saying: ‘Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I dedicated you, a prophet to the nations I appointed you. Judah’s kings and princes … priests and people … will fight against you but not prevail over you, for I am with you to deliver you,’ says the LORD.”

Jeremiah’s wisdom was born of God’s love. That wisdom spread news of God’s love to succeeding generations, but those generations, being human, needed continuous reinforcement. Because ignorance is intertwined with our original sin, maybe we can understand the nature of love better by contrasting it against the deadly sins that keep us from accomplishing our potential. Paul does that for the Corinthians in our second reading (1 Cor 12:31—13:13):

“Love is not jealous, it is not pompous, it is not inflated, it is not rude, it does not seek its own interests, it is not quick-tempered, it does not brood over injury, it does not rejoice over wrongdoing but rejoices with the truth. … At present I know partially; then I shall know fully, as I am fully known. So faith, hope, love remain, these three; but the greatest of these is love.”

Sunday’s gospel reading (Lk 4:21-30) traces our multiple deadly sins back to the original: fear. Mankind has always feared not sharing in God’s knowledge, and we’ve suffered the consequences of that fear through the hatred born in succeeding generations. We’ve been suffering from those consequences ever since Adam and Eve. Jesus was born to save us from our fate, but as our passage from Luke illustrates, we must first accept that gift if we are to enjoy its benefits. Fear and hatred born of ignorance wouldn’t allow Jesus’ fellow townspeople to accept God’s love after Christ assured them that he was the fulfillment of the prophets’ promises. They were handicapped by their own limited knowledge of his being the son of their neighbor, a lowly carpenter.

“Amen, I say to you, no prophet is accepted in his own native place,” Jesus acknowledged. But then that ignorance turned into original sin’s legacy: anger and hate.

“When the people in the synagogue heard this, they were all filled with fury. They rose up, drove him out of the town, and led him to the brow of the hill on which their town had been built, to hurl him down headlong. But Jesus passed through the midst of them and went away.”

Jesus’ lynching was only postponed, but the earthly death he eventually suffered for our sake bought humanity time to study and accept the nature of God’s love so we can reclaim the wisdom we lost long ago and cast off our fear for eternity.


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