Jesus takes his disciples across the lake in the storm to “the other side” – the eastern shore where the unclean Gentiles live.
It’s not far from their home on the western shore, but they have probably never been there before, it is too “other” for them. They survive the storm, arrive at midnight to a graveyard and are welcomed by a naked, violent, demonised man and a herd of pigs. Everything that their good Jewish mothers warned them about! They are filled with fear (Mark 4.35-5.5). Jesus takes them on this journey in order to bring their fear to the surface and confront it.
All humans have latent fear inside them as a result of the fall (Gen 3.10). But as long as you live on your comfortable western shore of the lake, you will not be aware of its presence or destructive power.
Jesus intentionally puts his disciples in scary places in order to make them feel fear, so that he can cut off its head. His strategy? Expose to confront.
As we go on mission “to the other side,” it is part of our discipleship. I never really felt fear in London, but I do now. So I’m learning to look to Jesus to deliver me from its power.
I suggest there are at least four roots of fear:
- Fear can be rooted in prejudice
The disciples were afraid partly because they were going amongst Gentile, unclean, pig farmers (most likely rearing pigs to sell to the Roman garrisons occupying Israel, so also people who do business with the enemy!). They have heard stories their whole lives reinforcing such prejudice.There is a great spirit of fear in the Western world at the moment, a lot of which is based on prejudice towards Muslims. Jesus’ method of discipleship involves taking us to the other side to engage with real people, not media caricatures, to expose and unravel our prejudice.
- Fear can be rooted in ignorance
People are afraid of the unknown. “Better the devil you know than the devil you don’t.” Have a medical diagnosis is so much better than not knowing.
The disciples arrived in the dark (set off at evening time, and it would have taken two hours to cross the lake) to a shore about which they had little or no knowledge.
We don’t see ourselves as ignorant about the world because we have Twitter to penetrate our darkness. How arrogant! So much of mission involves the unknown, the untried, landing on a foreign shore in the dark, and hence fear is a constant companion.
Isn’t it good that the other constant companion is Jesus!
- Fear can be rooted in wrong assumptions
One of the reasons for the disciples’ fear would have been the clean-unclean paradigm to which they were accustomed, which Jesus was teaching them was an inadequate view of reality.
They assumed that the clean is polluted/defiled by the unclean, so they were afraid to enter Gentile territory. But Jesus is constantly teaching them that the righteousness in him is stronger than the uncleanness in people: instead of being polluted by the demonised man, Jesus cleanses him.
The illusion of security is one of our modern myths, confronted regularly by terror attacks around the world. People feel they have a right to (or even there is such a thing as) a lifestyle immune to violence, but historically and globally many billions have never known that privilege. Perhaps a false assumption is being exposed.
- Fear can be rooted in not being in control
We love to be in control of our lives and situations. Being out of control terrifies us. That is why the storm was scary; they couldn’t control the boat and they couldn’t control the storm. Being led by Jesus out of your comfort zone is scary because you cannot control what happens next.
But isn’t real Christianity about putting your faith in Jesus, and trusting him to be in charge? In fact, didn’t fear enter the world at the fall because Adam chose to step out of God’s control into his own? We should be afraid when we are in control, and feel safe when God is!
Is Jesus leading you out of your depth?
Is your boat about to sink? Are you filled with fear? Good!
Jesus’ strategy of “expose to confront” is working! Good thing he is with you in the boat! Believe me, this is better than staying on the Western shore safe within the comfort of your prejudice, your ignorance, your wrong assumptions and your own puny control.