Since all the children share the same blood and flesh, he too shared equally in it, so that by his death he could take away all the power of the devil, who had power over death, and set free all those who had been held in slavery all their lives by the fear of death.
Hebrews 2: 14-15
In a recent interview the President of the United States declared: “The world is a mess. The world is as angry as it gets. . . . The world is an angry place.” Whatever one’s political stance, it does seem somewhat irrefutable that, at least in the United States, there is a lot of anger about. Some eight years ago, on the other hand, the newly elected president spoke of the potential of a very different disposition. Barack Obama spoke of hope as “that thing inside us that insists, despite all evidence to the contrary, that something better awaits us if we have the courage to reach for it, and to work for it, and to fight for it.”
How is it that a people, perhaps potentially any people, can, in such a brief time, experience such a dramatic turn in their underlying and dominant disposition of heart? Some political analysts point to disappointment. The problem, they say, in raising hope in people is that the promise of that hope can never fully be realized. We reach and work and fight for the better in us and yet we cannot fully realize it. And, of course, the “it” we long to realize is not one shared in common by all. At the level of our functioning and rationality, our hopes are quite divergent. In truth, others, who have hopes of their own, will always impede the realization of our hoped for expectations, thus demanding that we reckon with our own disappointment concerning life. If we do not enter into our experience of disappointment at the spiritual level, we shall find ourselves controlled by the anger born of the frustration of our hopes.
E. F. Schumacher, in A Guide For the Perplexed, observed that whoever coined the motto of France of “liberté égalité fraternité” was a person of rare insight. As he points out, liberty and equality are inherently conflictual. The only way that they can harmoniously coexist in us is through fraternity, the realization of our communion as members of a single family. The tension between liberty and equality remains constructive only within the context of fraternity as the primordial truth and value.
“Since all the children share the same blood and flesh, [Jesus] too shared equally in it . . . so that by his death he could . . . set free all those who had been held in slavery all their lives by the fear of death.” So often in life we act as if life is not a fragile and temporary gift, as if we do not all share in the same blood and flesh and destiny. At such moments of forgetfulness and spiritual repression all that matters is our own gratification, will, and dominance. Yet, all of this is but a refusal of the truth of our slavery to the fear of death in which we are held. It is not primarily anger that is dominating the world; it is fear. Of course, we are not only fear but also aspiration. To live in aspiration, however, requires a developmental and spiritual ability to live with disappointment, fear, and sadness. It means a capacity to live in striving for we know not what and for that which will never be fully realized. It means to acknowledge and live with failure, realizing that we and life are much more than winning and dominating.
Today we are reminded by Hebrews that freedom from fear, which is always in the last analysis fear of death, has been given to us. The gift of God in Jesus is free, but we do not realize it without the hard work of taking up the cross of our lives and following him. Anger and violence will always rule within and among us when we persist in living out our illusions and inflicting them on others. The world is an angry place, but it is also a suffering, loving, and compassionate place. If we insist on inflicting our limited, illusory, and sinful hopes on others, we shall only magnify the anger. If we face the harsh and fearful truth of our own mortality, but also of our deliverance from that mortality, we shall discover the hope and possibility that lies in the “fraternité” of our shared and redeemed humanity.
What is real never ceases to be.
The unreal never is. The sages
Who realize the Self know the secret
Of what is and what is not.
Know that the Self, the ground of existence,
Can never be destroyed or diminished.
For the changeless cannot be changed.
Bodies die, not the Self that dwells therein.
Know the Self to be beyond change and death.
Therefore strive to realize this Self.
Bhagavad Gita, Chapter Two, trans. Eknath Easwaran