But immediately Jesus spoke to them and said, "Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid." (Matthew 14:27 NRSV)

Fear is a terrible thing, isn't it? Max Anders in his book THE GOOD LIFE tells about watching a television program when he was a kid in which a huckster went from town to town with a huge rattlesnake in a glass cage. The man would cover the glass with a blanket and take it into a saloon. There he would tell the people what was under the blanket in the cage and would bet that the toughest, bravest man in town would not be able to hold his hand against the glass without jerking it back when the rattlesnake struck.

Well, the townspeople went wild with excitement. After deciding who they thought was the bravest, toughest man in town, they went to tell him about the bet. Of course, having everyone choose him as the toughest, bravest man in town made it impossible for the guy to resist the challenge. So he went to the saloon where all the folks bet that he could hold his hand against the glass without jerking it back when the rattlesnake struck.

After all bets were taken, the huckster tore the blanket off to reveal the biggest, most menacing, evil-eyed reptile ever seen by man. Annoyed by the light and noise, the snake coiled to strike, his rattles buzzing nervously.

The toughest, bravest man broke out in a cold sweat. But prodded by the collective expectation of the townspeople, he moved his hand toward the glass.

The snake coiled even tighter. The rattler buzzed its lethal warning.

Slowly the man inched his hand toward the glass and finally touched it. As he did, the snake struck with fury. And reflexively, the toughest, bravest man jerked his hand away. A stunned silence fell over the saloon. No one could believe it. The man looked around in anguish and humiliation, then stormed from the saloon. The huckster collected his money and left town before the defeated man had a chance to collect his courage and come after him. Then the huckster moved on to the next town to repeat the scene and, once again, win the bet. He almost always won.

Why? Because no matter how big and brave and tough the frontiersmen were, the threat of that striking reptile through the invisible glass was a fearsome thing. The only thing between them and certain death was a thin pane of glass. The huckster knew it would hold; they did not trust it. The huckster knew there was nothing to fear except fear itself, and he played on that fear to make his living.

Fear is a terrible thing, but Jesus can calm our fears.

Loving God, take away the fears that keep me from faithfully serving you. In Jesus' name, Amen.

Ron Newhouse

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