Fire-breathing Jesus

Pentecost 13 – 2016

Luke 12:49-59

Marian Free



In the name of God who demands that we hold fast to the truth whatever the cost. Amen.

In Monday’s Sydney Morning Herald, two articles caught my attention. The first reported on the visit of Susan Sarandon to Melbourne. It may come as no surprise to you that Sarandon is one of the actors I most admire – along with other strong women (Kate Hepburn, Glenda Jackson, Meryl Streep) who refused to buy into the Hollywood hype and who maintain their commitment to their craft. Sarandon was in Melbourne at the invitation of the La Dolce Italia festival. Of course, the report only captured the material that would sell newspapers. What struck me in the short piece was Sarandon’s determination to say what she believes to be right and not to compromise.

“The thing that really gets me is when I haven’t said something honestly. When there is something that people who don’t have a voice … and someone tells me about it, and I have the opportunity to shine a light on it, when I don’t, I feel that I have betrayed my authenticity,” she told the compere, Crown’s Ann Peacock.

A second article contrasted strongly with the brief report on Sarandon. Headlined “Refugee singer’s uneasy air” it concerned a young refugee from Syria whom you might have seen in the news earlier in the year. As a means of dealing with the trauma and the hardship of his ‘pulverised, starving neighbourhood in war-torn Syria, Ayham al-Ahmad embarked on a career of playing concerts in the rubble’ to provide a sense of normality. Videos of his performances spread online, drew attention to him and finally enabled him to escape the siege of his hometown Yarmulke.. Ahmad has now been accepted as a refugee by Germany where he has “set himself the task of putting a human face on his fellow refugees”. In Syria Ahmad was a piano teacher and music salesperson. Here in Germany he has become a star. He is booked nearly every night, has appeared in numerous German news accounts and received a prestigious music prize.

Despite all this he is filled with a sense of unease. He wonders if he really makes a difference, if his audiences see him and his relative success and forget where he is from and do not see in him the thousands who are still in Syria – in prison, under siege or subject to constant bombing. Ahmad’s escape also gives him a sense of survivor’s guilt – why is he the lucky one? Did he make more of a difference when he was playing for and with those whom he has left behind?

On the one hand, Sarandon refuses to compromise, and on the other Ahmad is anxious that he perhaps he has been compromised. Of course, the two come from vastly different positions – Sarandon has, privilege, position and wealth where’s Ahmad has only talent, vulnerability and dependence. All the same, Sarandon’s outspokenness could potentially cost her roles and if Ahmad maintains his integrity he could win even more respect and notoriety – but these are issues on which we can only speculate.

Jesus has some challenging words in today’s gospel: “I came to bring fire to the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled! I have a baptism with which to be baptized, and what stress I am under until it is completed! Do you think that I have come to bring peace to the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division!”

Major social change rarely comes without a cost. Some things that we now take for granted were hard won and along the way created fury and split the community into those who were for and those who were against the issue. For example, the abolition of the slave trade – while ending centuries of inhumanity and liberating people from indenture – caused economic hardship, if not ruin for those who had built their wealth on free labour. No wonder abolition was so vehemently opposed and it’s supporters vilified.

Giving women the vote was equally contentious. It meant a complete overhaul of accepted social norms especially around the place of women and the capability of women. For some it was seen as a threat to family life and an overturning of the entire social fabric. No wonder the issue was so divisive and its proponents seen as disruptive and anti-social. Social change, even that pursued by followers of Jesus, can and does lead to harmony and division.

Many of us feel that being a Christian entails conforming to the world around us, keeping the law, not causing trouble and certainly not taking a radical stand. But Jesus gave us no such idea. Jesus utterly refused to fit in to the society around him. He refused to compromise his values, and he stood by his convictions even in the face of opposition and derision. Jesus was confident that he understood God’s purpose for him and he would not be dissuaded from this path no matter how many people he offended or put off side and no matter that the consequence would be his crucifixion for insurrection.

This is fire-breathing Jesus not the gentle Jesus meek and mild of the 19th century poem. This is a Jesus who knows what he believes and what he stands for and who will stick to his principles no matter what the cost. This is the “sign that would be opposed” that Simeon predicted when the infant Jesus was presented at the Temple. This is the division that Jesus predicts will result from his presence here on earth. When Jesus and his followers stand up for what is right, when they challenge governments and institutions, when they name injustices and shine a light on oppression they will cause disquiet, disharmony and even division, but that is not a reason to stay silent and it is a poor excuse for not becoming involved.

Listen again to what Jesus says in today’s gospel: “I came to bring fire to the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled! I have a baptism with which to be baptized, and what stress I am under until it is completed! Do you think that I have come to bring peace to the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division!”

Let us pray that the fire of Christ’s passion may fill our lives and inform our actions and that should it come to it, we would have the courage to take a stand no matter what the cost to ourselves.


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