In his work Contra Adimentum, this is how St. Augustine of Hippo briefly puts the difference between the Old and New Testaments, that is, between the Law and the Gospel: “timor, amor” (fear, love). There is much truth to this summation, but we should not make too much of it. St. Augustine knew very well that there is plenty about love in the Old Testament, and, on the other hand, there is plenty about fear in the New Testament.
In today’s gospel (Luke 17:26-37), for example, Jesus tells us some quite fearful things. The coming days of the Son of Man will be like the days of Noah, when many people perished in a great flood. They will be like the days of Lot, when Sodom was destroyed because of the wickedness of the Sodomites. Lot escaped the destruction of that city, but his wife became overly curious and looked back, and she was turned into a pillar of salt. What Jesus describes sounds like an airplane disaster, when you have to put on your own face mask first, and when you can’t waste time fidgeting with your luggage in the overhead. “One in the field must not return to what was left behind.”
Fear is a natural human emotion and we should use it to help us do good and avoid evil. It is true, as John’s first letter says, that there is no fear in love, but perfect love drives out fear. So, those of us who have perfect love will not have any fear. But others of us, whose love is not yet perfect, should want to have some fear. That is why fear of the Lord is one of the gifts of the Holy Spirit. May that same Spirit give us all the gifts and graces we need most.