"I have come to set the earth on fire . . . "
Jeremiah 38: 4-6, 8-10
Hebrews 12: 1-4
Lk 12: 49-53
It’s tough being a prophet. No doubt about it! Just ask Jeremiah who stands this Sunday in his muddy prison. What did this reluctant prophet do to deserve such punishment – to be thrown into a cistern filled with mud? It seems he did what prophets do – he carried God’s message to those who would rather hear something else so they temporarily silence him.
Jerusalem at this time is surrounded by the Babylonian army and Jeremiah goes to the King, advising that he surrender and all will go well for him and his family. Either surrender a humiliating defeat or continue to resist at the peril of your own life, the destruction of Jerusalem and the capture of its citizens. No wonder poor Jeremiah was treated like a pesky fly on the wall. Yet that is what happened – off to Babylon went the vast majority of Jewish people in a destructive melee of the city and Jeremiah with them due to the King’s obstinacy.
This great prophet of the Old Testament paid a price for speaking the truth as God had so inspired him. The “Babylonian captivity,” as is this period of Jewish history is called, was a time to call the nation to its senses; a time to regroup and renew the Covenant made between God and his people. Eventually, a remnant returned and Jeremiah was vindicated. The truth, we might say, caught on fire in the hearts of people and the flame originally lit by God’s spirit never was extinguished.
The Gospel from Luke holds a further insight into the power of truth telling. Yet, it is uncomfortable to hear. From the lips of Jesus we hear what may be somewhat uncharacteristic as a prophet of peace and love: “I have come to set the earth on fire, and how I wish it were already blazing! . . . Do you think that I have come to establish peace on the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division . . .” (Lk 12: 49 ff).
What is that “fire” that Jesus desires? In this summer season of forest fires these words may hold uncomfortable meaning. But, it’s clear that Jesus does not speak of a literal fire in the woods but the fire of God’s truth which has the power to both bring change for the better and at the same time cause division – even in families themselves as he states in the Gospel.
Like Jeremiah the prophet and Jesus who spoke as God’s Word, the truth when proclaimed and even more importantly lived out with conviction can disturb.
As we approach this Sunday, it might be good to think about the times that we have spoken or witnessed to the truth of the Gospel of Christ and been threatened, judged, misunderstood, ignored, or perhaps even rejected all together. Was there also a time that your courage changed someone for the better?
More to come . . .