Out of all the fears we humans experience, research shows the greatest is the fear of being alone. Many of our other fears disappear or lessen when someone else is around sharing them with us.
We see this in our three Agony in the Garden passages. Jesus begs his companions to “stay awake” and be present to him as he’s experiencing great anxiety. He didn’t want to have to go through it alone; he simply needed several warm, awake bodies to share his pain that fateful night.
Today’s three readings are very significant for anyone who fears being alone.
Deutero-Isaiah echoes the fear of many Jews in the middle of the Babylonian Exile. “Yahweh has forsaken me; Yahweh has forgotten me.” If God abandons us, we’re really in trouble. That’s why Yahweh’s next words are so often repeated. “Can a mother forget her infant, be without tenderness for the child of her womb? Even should she forget, I will never forget you.” Though we frequently don’t reflect on it, God’s closer to us than parents are to their children. God never wants us to live our faith alone.
This conviction is mirrored in the faith of Paul. Reading his seven authentic letters carefully we discover he often was left to fend for himself, especially when it came to his belief that Gentiles didn’t have to convert to Judaism before they converted to Christianity. As we know from Paul’s letter to the Galatians, even his good friend and fellow missionary, Barnabas, deserted him in Antioch when Peter and others in the community showed their disagreement with Paul’s theology and practice by refusing to eat meals with non-Jews. They didn’t share Paul’s belief that both Gentile-Christians and Jewish-Christians could be equal members of the Body of Christ. Even in the midst of his frequent “aloneness” on this issue, the Apostle is convinced the risen Jesus is so much a part of his unique ministry that he alone can judge him. Only the Christ knows what makes Paul tick. He’s always with him.
Matthew’s Jesus tells us exactly what to do to experience his risen presence. It all revolves around our focus in life. “You cannot serve two masters. You will either hate one and love the other, or be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.” Those who imitate Jesus must constantly concentrate on Jesus.
We can’t let ourselves be snookered into buying into someone else’s value system. “Do not worry about your life,” Jesus commands, “what you will eat or drink, or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, the body more than clothing?”
Spiritual author John Shea once observed, “Jesus of Nazareth was concerned with answering just three questions: What do you want out of life? Where do you get it? How much does it cost?”
Jesus presumes his Sermon on the Mount followers want to live their lives to the fullest. That means they’ll have to acquire a different attitude toward life than most people around them have developed. In order to do so, they’ll have to give up the “goodies” which many judge to be the goal of human existence.
Those willing to achieve such a change in focus and make their service of others the centerpiece of their lives will not only live life on a deeper level, they’ll always have the risen Jesus as a companion. (Remember he once promised, “Where two or three are gathered in my name, I am in your midst.”) It’s just a matter of being willing to pay the price of living our lives as he lived his.
Though Jesus’ followers share the same fears all other humans experience, it would seem that being left alone by Jesus isn’t one of those fears.