Ask Now About Former Ages, Long Before Your Own: The Fears of Every Leader
There is a common misconception that leaders are fearless individuals. However, in reality, fear plays a significant role in leadership. Fear is a primal emotion that internal or external factors can trigger. While sometimes fear may be out of our control, there are also instances where it is just in our minds. Fear signals that there may be a real danger. When a threat is genuine, fear is also genuine, but when it is a product of our imagination, it is only a perceived fear.
Fear can also be rational when a threat is real and imminent. This occurs when faced with a life-threatening situation like the fear of being stabbed, dying, losing someone, etc. There are also situations where fear is primal. This mainly has to do with phobias, like claustrophobia (fear of confined space), arachnophobia (fear of spiders) or ophidiophobia (fear of snakes), etc.
We also have an irrational fear. It is the fear of things that do not make logical sense. In this type of fear, the individual wonders why it exists because some parts of the brain understand there is no danger, whereas the other part keeps reacting. A good example is the fear of a ghost or clown. In numerous instances, the person understands there is no danger to their life, yet they can’t control their feelings.
These three types of fear can be classified into natural and conditional fear. Natural fears are born within us, like fear of a dangerous animal and specific places. Conditional fears come from negative experiences and cause anxiety and avoidance. Once we have a negative experience, our brain associates similar circumstances with the same outcome, leading to irrational responses.
In today’s readings, we meet with two communities and their leaders facing some vital fears. In the Gospel of Matthew, with the beheading of John the Baptist in chapter 14, Jesus knew that his hour was drawing near. Starting from that moment, the tone of Matthew’s Gospel changed, as Jesus was facing threats sporadically. When the Pharisees are not testing, him, the Sadducees are questioning him. When the Apostles are not doubting, they manifest no strong notion of who they are.
And as a good leader, the greatest fear is not the one that comes from without, but the ones within. The former can be easily avoided, but the latter keeps following the fear-gripped individual. In today’s reading, Matthew 16.24-28, we read about the new way Jesus taught his disciples since he decided to go to Jerusalem. His days are numbered, and the disciples seem oblivious to the looming danger. So, there is no more question of mincing words if he must succeed in his mission of preparing them for the tasks ahead. Being a disciple of Jesus is no longer a question of admiring his miracles and witnessing his intriguing teachings, but intentionally following the new way. Henceforth, it is either they follow him, or they do not:
If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves, take their cross, and follow me. Those who want to save their lives will lose it, and those who lose their lives for my sake will find it. Those are words of a leader who is afraid of his disciples’ future, and a thing of fear for disciples who want to follow a leader with solid conviction.
In the first reading, Deuteronomy 4.32-40, we encounter another fear gripped leader. Moses, the author(s) of Deuteronomy, informs us has been notified will not enter into the promised land:
“The Lord was angry with me because of you, and he solemnly swore that I would not cross the Jordan and enter the good land the Lord your God is giving you as your inheritance. 22 I will die in this land; I will not cross the Jordan” (4: 21-22).
So, gripped with the fear of what will happen to his community, he must sound loud and clear. They cannot waste what was gotten with the blood of their ancestors. He also perceived the fear of his community and needed to reassure them of God’s steadfastness. Thus, he addressed the Israelites and asked them to reflect on the history of humanity. He urged them to inquire throughout the heavens and earth if there had ever been an event as remarkable as what they had experienced. He questioned if any nation had ever heard the voice of a god speaking from a fire and survived.
In brief, in today’s first and second reading, the word of God reminds us that being frightful is not always a weakness on the side of a leader. A community facing the fear of their future is not a weakness. However, they should never forget that in no history has any God been as faithful as the God that guides his people through fears and threats.