Mr. Monk and the List of Fears

Everybody is afraid of something.

What is it you are afraid of? Think about it for a minute. What are you afraid of? Jerry Seinfeld once wrote, “…people’s number one fear is public speaking. Number TWO is death. DEATH is number two. Does that sound right? This means to the average person, if you go to a funeral, you’re better off IN the casket than doing the eulogy.”[1] Seems irrational doesn’t it? But that’s what fear does. It drives us to be irrational. Fear drives us to be irrational. And that irrationality can lead us down many different paths. Sometimes it freezes us. Sometimes we become so anxious we make errors we would never otherwise make. And sometimes it takes us down a very dark path. It’s hard to believe that a little green Muppet said it best, and no I’m not talking about Kermit the Frog. I’m talking about Yoda, the wise Jedi Master from Star Wars who once said, “Fear is the path to the Dark Side. Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering.” This is the side of fear that is the most dangerous not only to ourselves but to society as a whole. It’s the side the leads to prejudice, bigotry, and being closed-minded. It’s the side of ourselves that doesn’t allow for compromise or for level-headed thinking. And that’s the most dangerous kind of fear of all. Because that’s when we not only lose ourselves, but forget what it means to be the children of God.

Wise quote from Yoda, Jedi Master
Wise quote from Yoda, Jedi Master

The problem is, we don’t always see it coming.

If you have a Bible or a Bible app on your phones would you please go to the Gospel of John 9:13. John 9:13. What I mean by that is we don’t always recognize fear for what it is. It masquerades as something else. Righteousness. Indignity. Cockiness. Condescension. Bigotry. Prejudice. Hate. It hides behind a mask and we don’t recognize it because it looks like something else. But it is fear. What we’re reading today is the story of the man born blind. And you might not realize it at first, but this is a story about fear. It starts when Jesus goes up to this blind man, spits on some dirt and makes mud out of it, and then puts it on his eyes. Jesus tells the blind man to go wash it off in the pool at Siloam and suddenly the man can see. People are amazed at this miracle and they take the “formerly blind man” to the Pharisees and that’s where we pick up the Gospel story.

13 They brought to the Pharisees the man who had been blind. 14 Now the day on which Jesus had made the mud and opened the man’s eyes was a Sabbath. 15 Therefore the Pharisees also asked him how he had received his sight. “He put mud on my eyes,” the man replied, “and I washed, and now I see.”

 16 Some of the Pharisees said, “This man is not from God, for he does not keep the Sabbath.”

   But others asked, “How can a sinner perform such signs?” So they were divided.

 17 Then they turned again to the blind man, “What have you to say about him? It was your eyes he opened.”

   The man replied, “He is a prophet.”

 18 They still did not believe that he had been blind and had received his sight until they sent for the man’s parents. 19 “Is this your son?” they asked. “Is this the one you say was born blind? How is it that now he can see?”

 20 “We know he is our son,” the parents answered, “and we know he was born blind. 21 But how he can see now, or who opened his eyes, we don’t know. Ask him. He is of age; he will speak for himself.” 22 His parents said this because they were afraid of the Jewish leaders, who already had decided that anyone who acknowledged that Jesus was the Messiah would be put out of the synagogue. 23 That was why his parents said, “He is of age; ask him.”

 24 A second time they summoned the man who had been blind. “Give glory to God by telling the truth,” they said. “We know this man is a sinner.”

 25 He replied, “Whether he is a sinner or not, I don’t know. One thing I do know. I was blind but now I see!”

 26 Then they asked him, “What did he do to you? How did he open your eyes?”

 27 He answered, “I have told you already and you did not listen. Why do you want to hear it again? Do you want to become his disciples too?”

 28 Then they hurled insults at him and said, “You are this fellow’s disciple! We are disciples of Moses! 29 We know that God spoke to Moses, but as for this fellow, we don’t even know where he comes from.”

 30 The man answered, “Now that is remarkable! You don’t know where he comes from, yet he opened my eyes. 31 We know that God does not listen to sinners. He listens to the godly person who does his will. 32 Nobody has ever heard of opening the eyes of a man born blind. 33 If this man were not from God, he could do nothing.”

 34 To this they replied, “You were steeped in sin at birth; how dare you lecture us!” And they threw him out.

HUAC or the House Un-American Activities Committee under Senator McCarthy - photo from the University of Washington Civil Rights Library
HUAC or the House Un-American Activities Committee under Senator McCarthy – photo from the University of Washington Civil Rights Library

Two things happened here out of fear.

The first is probably the most obvious. The Pharisees kick the man out of the temple because he didn’t agree that Jesus was a sinner. They ostracize him from society even though he is telling the truth, even though they KNOW he is telling the truth. They were so afraid of Jesus, they were so afraid of what he represented, they were so afraid of losing influence, power, and control that despite everything they had seen and everything they had heard they were intent on finding a way to get rid of him and anyone who supported him. Reminds me a lot of the McCarthy hearings back in the 50’s when people’s lives were ruined just by labeling you a Communist. It didn’t matter if you were one or not. It didn’t matter if they had any proof or not. They just had to accuse you of it and you were blacklisted.[2] No job. No money. No friends. I don’t know if we are much different today. We locked Japanese-Americans behind barbed wire fences because we thought they were a threat – even though there was never evidence any of them were spies or dissidents. Now we’re talking about banning Muslims from entering our country based solely on their religious beliefs. Doesn’t that fly in the face of the very foundation of our country? We fought a war at least in part to insure that every man, woman, and child could worship freely. Does that only apply to Christians? Fear drives us to do things we would never otherwise consider.

But the other thing that happened in this story has to do with his parents.

They didn’t stick up for him. Even though they knew he was blind from birth, even though they knew this could only be the work of a miracle, they didn’t say anything. Because they were afraid. They were afraid of being put out. They were afraid of being ostracized. They were afraid of what the future might look like if their lives were changed. So instead they abandoned their son, their child, their flesh and blood to the mercy of the unmerciful Pharisees. All out of fear. Fear may drive us to do irrational things, but it can also stop us from doing the right thing. Fear may drive us to do irrational things, but it can also stop us from doing the right thing. Imagine what it must have been like for the man who was born blind. To be abandoned by your parents? To be tossed to the wolves by the people who raised you? For what purpose? To belong to a group of people who are in such fear that they would deny what was right before their eyes?   I know we want to believe we would never do that, and I hope you wouldn’t, but we often do things out of fear. Just look at our political landscape today and you can see for yourself how people are reacting out of fear. Never before have we had such violence during a presidential election. Never before have we had such disrespect for one another. And if you really examine it, really look at the reasons behind it, really pray about it, I think you’ll see what I see – a fearful people. Fear of what the world is becoming. Fear of where we are going as a people. Fear of what the future looks like. But it boils down to fear.

Monk's list of fears
Monk’s list of fears

Mr. Monk is someone who knows a lot about fear.

If you’ve ever seen the show Monk when it was on the USA Network, you know what I’m talking about. Monk is the story of the defective detective, a genius of a man who seems to be afraid of everything! Officially, he is afraid of 312 things including germs, death, heights, dentists, sharp or pointed objects, vomiting, naked people, snakes, and milk. Yes, milk. Did you know that’s a real thing? It’s called galaphobia. But here’s what makes Monk one of my favorite heroes. Despite the overwhelming fear he deals with every day, whenever there is a need Monk would find a way to overcome his fear and do the right thing. Whether that was taking a case for a guy with leprosy or solving a murder at a nudist colony, Monk would put aside his fears to do what needed to be done. Can we do the same? Can we find a way to recognize our fears and put them aside for the greater good? God tells us that we have nothing to worry about. He tells us to put him first, to remember that he is watching over us, and to ease our mind knowing we are under his care. In Matthew 6, Jesus says, “But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. 34 Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.” Isn’t that the truth? Don’t we have enough trouble in life already without adding to it? This week, I want you to pray hard about what fears might be holding you back from being your best self. What fear is stopping you from accomplishing more? And really challenge yourself to dig deep. Don’t just go for surface fears like spiders and snakes (although those are real and legitimate fears), but are you afraid of something else? Afraid of older people? Afraid of immigrants? Afraid of people of different orientations or beliefs? Go deep this week and give it up to God to lead you. Because God is waiting for you to turn your fear over to him. Only then can we really move forward as his people. In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

[1] An excerpt from the book SeinLanguage by Jerry Seinfeld, p.120 – emphasis mine.

[2] – Women’s suffrage and child labor laws were also considered communist plots at one time

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