The life and ministry of Jesus are more than rife with the amazing qualities he had and the amazing things he did. One of his qualities, however, is not pointed out as frequently as his miracles and the interactions with his followers which often take center stage. In short, he was a brilliant orator! People were drawn just to hear his words. Kings and scholarly officials were both mesmerized and confounded by the things he spoke! One of the talents he used to create this buzz was that he employed images of common every day things to create profound teaching, wisdom and insights. People could instantly relate to his teachings because he gave examples of things that were real and tangible in their own lives. Field flowers, sparrows, wheat seeds, a lost coin, yeast, being hungry, wine and bread were all evocative images that were used to deliver life changing lessons. In the Gospel of Luke Jesus makes a potent declaration about his own ministry here on earth and he uses the image of fire.
“Jesus said to his disciples: ‘I have come to set the earth on fire, and how I wish it were already blazing! There is my anguish until it is accomplished.’” (Lk 12: 49-50). We have all experienced fire in one way or another. Everyone knows that fire can be both life sustaining as well as murderous. It is both beneficial and deadly at the same time! So what can we take from Jesus’ use of this two sided image? His own description of his ministry is not a gentle one. Contrary to the images of shepherd and lamb, Jesus himself chooses an image that is pointed, strong and even threatening! Fire consumes and the consequence of coming close to the fire can be devastating. He makes no bones that both the ministry and work associated with his time on earth are not supposed to be a “walk in the park” or a pleasant stroll with birds and butterflies. His stand for the Kingdom and the work of His Father is blazing, literally! Our current Pope, Benedict XVI teaches that: “When Jesus talks about fire, he means in the first place his own Passion. Jesus sets fire to the earth. Whoever comes close to Jesus, accordingly, must be prepared to be burned. Being a Christian, then, is daring to entrust oneself to this burning fire.”
These are strong images and perhaps a little frightening. Jesus description carries with it an urgency that is clear. The earth needs him now, right away, and his hope is that the ministry will literally consume everything! As his followers we need to be keenly aware that the battle for the Kingdom will bring heat and as his agents we need to realize that is not necessarily a bad thing. As co-workers in the vineyard of the Lord we should have the clear understanding that it will not always be smooth sailing. When we experience hard times, resistance to our word, witness and example, these things might not necessarily mean that we are doing something wrong. In fact, they might be indications that we have lit a small fire that will add to the blaze and we are indeed doing something right. Only a sharpened sense of discernment and regular prayer discipline can help us with that information.
Jesus’ image of fire has a flip side. Besides being devastating, fire has benefits. Fire warms the cold and melts ice. Fire is a force of energy and moves forward no matter what, it is unstoppable. Fire burns off all the dross that is not pure gold. Fire exposes those things that are not permanent. Fire illuminates even the darkest and most hidden corners. The illumination shows us things that we have never seen before. In ecosystems, fire removes the old growth and makes it possible for new life to sprout. Fire clears away the rubble that has accumulated. Fire leaves behind a clean slate where new things can be built. In the path of a fire, no one is exempt from its effects. So then a ministry that is in the fire is not necessarily a bad or destructive thing. Rather, it can be the force that clears away all the things that are blocking progress and/or the will of the Lord. As a minister in the fire, don’t shy away from a stand in the flames! As Jesus himself taught, welcome the blaze and don’t be afraid to get burned. It is quite possible that the burn could be the start of something that is brand new which you never expected!
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View more or Kathryn’s thoughts and opinions at ATravelersView.org
For a great image of a saint in the fire of battle, check this. It’s worth contemplating:
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