The notion that a truly exceptional leader is fearless is nothing more than an idealistic fantasy. In reality, what sets great leaders apart is not a lack of fear, but their ability to harness and channel it. The ability to transform fear into a driving force is the hallmark of those with exceptional leadership skills. It is worth noting that every significant development in human history has been spurred on by a moment of fear or a premonition of impending danger.
Today’s readings, (19th Sunday in the ordinary time, Year A) can be summarized as the tales of fear gripped leaders. Unfortunately, many preachers focus either on the silent voice as the unique way of God’s manifestation or on the little faith of Peter. They forget both the reasons for those actions and the revelation of the great leadership of the two men.
In the first reading (1 King 19:9, 11-13), we encounter a frightened Elijah hiding in a cave in Mount Horeb as Jezebel is going about massacring the prophets. Elijah had just received a message from Queen Jezebel:
“‘So may the gods do to me and more also if I do not make your life as the life of one of them by this time tomorrow.’ Then he was afraid, and he arose and ran for his life and came to Beersheba, which belongs to Judah, and left his servant there.” (19, 2-3).
There, the frightened Elijah decided he would rather die naturally than be killed by Jezebel. Downcast, he prayed to die of hunger, but the Lord fed him through the birds. Standing up, he walked to Mount Horeb for forty days and nights, where he once again hid in a cave.
In the second reading (Romans 9: 1-5), I agree with the commentators who see Paul as comparing his mission to that of Moses. Like Moses, who, when frightened by the iniquities of his people, prayed to be blotted out of the book for their sake (Exodus 32:30–34), the frightened Paul also wants to be cursed and cut from Christ for his people. Here also, we witness a frightened leader who places his life in line to save his people.
Furthermore, in the Gospel (Matthew 14: 22-33), we meet another frightened leader trying to prove his allegiance to his mentor. In this passage, we often insist on the little faith of Peter, but not his courage to dare Christ to command him to come to him on the water. In addition, we all ignore the fear-stricken eleven who could not even open their mouths. This Gospel passage is a good example of how fear sets apart an excellent leader. Peter is well-known for this, and Jesus knew it well.
In the passion narrative, we see him exhibit that frequently. When Jesus was arrested, the Apostles were frightened beyond death, and only Peter, as a fearful leader, could try, even in an awkward manner, to interpose the insurgent. These could be seen when he cut the ear of the servant of the High priests (John 18: 18) and denied Jesus three times (Luke 22:54-62). However, what is spectacular about Peter is that in those moments, though he was always maladroit, he never gave up. He stood by Jesus’s side even without most of his colleagues.
The readings today urge us to confront our fears and overcome our enemies. Many young individuals are overwhelmed with anxiety about the future, causing them to lose hope. We can relate to Peter’s plea to the Lord to save him in these moments. Similarly, numerous elderly individuals fear for the future of their loved ones and their own work or business. Some have even given up hope. Today, we are all encouraged to echo Peter’s words: “Lord, save me!”
Although it may seem like God is absent during the difficult times plaguing our world, we shouldn’t try to find him amid destructive winds, earthquakes, and fires. Instead, we should search for him in the gentle breezes of everyday kindness, in the smiles of those we encounter. He is present in the form of good friends, moments of joy, and the blessings that come our way.