Last Sunday's gospel reading told the famous story of the young man who had lived a perfect life according to the law, according to what was expected of him. I suppose he had spent sometime listening to Jesus preach and had some knowledge of his teaching. I suspect he felt confident as he approached Jesus. I suspect ultimately the man was anticipating confirmation as he told Jesus that he had lived the perfect life, which was expected of him, in living rightly according to the laws of his faith. I suspect the wealthy young man was being a bit ironic, and maybe a little cocky, when with maybe a confident smile on his face, he asked Jesus, "Master, what else do I need to do to enter paradise?" We know the answer.
"Give away everything you own to the poor." Jesus told him, I suspect with a quiet voice, barely above a whisper and with a little smile on his face.
Had I been the rich man, I too would have been greatly sad and thunderstruck in Jesus's whispered answer. I would have said to myself, "I was afraid Jesus was going to say something like that."
I know how the rich young man felt. It's not that I fear God in the sense of "wrath of God stuff" or eternal punishment for my sins. No, I trust in Jesus, my transgressions are forgiven, as he promises, as I begin to live in the new life, the New Creation birthed in the shadow of the cross. Unlike the young man I have never come close to living the life expected of me, but Jesus has for me. I trust Jesus in this.
So if I'm not fearing wrath of God stuff, then what is it I fear about God?
I fear what God will ask of me. I fear what God will ask of me beyond the expected. I fear what God reveals to me about myself, about both the things I feel good about and about the apprehension I have about myself. I fear those things I too must give away, surrender, in order to fully realize my humanity. I fear the vulnerability true love requires, the vulnerability which is reflected in God's vulnerable love born on the cross.
I fear the vulnerability which compassion requires, the vulnerability for my own weakness and sorrow, I fear the willingness to embrace my suffering in God's compassionate love, to be healed and transformed from a person self-absorbed in fearfulness and woundedness, into a compassionate companion to self, humanity and creation. I cannot truly embrace the suffering of the world unless I first embrace mine in the healing salvation of the embrace.
When I deny my suffering, I conveniently too deny the suffering of the world. It's not enough to do what is merely expected, but I have to extend myself, into my heart and soul, towards the truth of who I am: sorry, mistaken, weak, in pain, hopeless and sad, yes; but also to acknowledge myself as one who is much more in the hope of God's love, one who is also living the future hope, now, as one forgiven, relieved, healed, made whole, and knowing the real joy of love.
There is real joy to be found in vulnerability. Real love requires willingness for vulnerability in the face of human struggles, sorrows and tribulations, which are more in number than in all the stars above and around us. We have to have a willingness to be vulnerable in order to more fully love, and be vulnerable to be more fully loved.This is the way to joy, to be abandoned in love. This is the Way of Jesus, the Way of the living God: upright, vulnerable, arms stretched out, chest and belly exposed, awaiting the sweet vulnerable embrace of the world.