In the imagery of the Old Testament, fire is a symbol of God’s powerful presence. We remember Moses at the burning bush, the pillar of fire that accompanied the Israelites by night as they wandered through the desert to the promised land, as well as the tongues of fire that hovered over the disciples at Pentecost. It is this Pentecostal fire that burns people’s hearts and draws them to change the direction of their lives.
However, we cannot dodge the challenging words we read in the gospels. If we choose to follow Jesus, we will attract persecutors and opposition, sadly, often from within one’s own family. Jesus was no stranger to family division. It seems likely that members of his own family were not sympathetic to his ministry. While the purpose of Jesus’ mission was peace, his presence would inevitably divide. His words are true even today. To follow Jesus wholeheartedly and uncompromisingly incurs hostility. To embrace the gospel is to lose the affection of the world.
But Jesus did not ask anything of his followers, which he was not willing to face himself. He knew that he would face suffering and death, yet nothing would prevent him from fulfilling what he knew to be the Father’s will. Jesus calls us not to be afraid to face opposition and hostility, not to turn away from suffering and pain. He has gone before us to show us the way, and he is with us now.
From the desert monastic fathers come this guidance for us this Pentecost:
Abba Lot came to Abba Joseph and said: Father, according as I am able, I keep my little rule, and my little fast, my prayer, meditation and contemplative silence; and, according as I am able, I strive to cleanse my heart of thoughts: now what more should I do? The elder rose up in reply and stretched out his hands to heaven, and his fingers became like ten lamps of fire. He said: Why not become fire?
Let’s pray today that we too can become the fire of God’s love in our world.