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Playing with Fire

August 19th, 2013by Joe Ollier

There are some Gospel passages you never hear in Sunday school or religion class.  Yesterday’s passage from Luke is one of them.  We like stories about miracles and healings.  We like parables about mustard seeds and prodigal sons.  We tell kids about how Jesus was a cute little baby in a manger, about how he died and rose from the dead.  We tell them that Jesus loves them very much.  But I’ll wager we don’t share these words with our 5 year olds too often: “I have come to set the earth on fire, and how I wish it were already blazing!  There is a baptism with which I must be baptized, and how great is my anguish until it is accomplished! Do you think that I have come to establish peace on the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division.” (Luke 12: 49-51).  And as if that’s not enough, he continues saying, “…a father will be divided against his son and a son against his father, a mother against her daughter and a daughter against her mother…” (Luke 12:53) Can you hear it?  “Hey kids, grab your cookies and milk and gather ‘round on the story circle.  I’m going to tell you all about how Jesus makes families fight and hate each other!”

This isn’t the warm and fuzzy Jesus who takes kids on his lap or eats dinner with Zaccheus or who promises peace and joy.  It’s definitely not the milquetoast, mushy, non-judgemental Jesus the media loves – you know, the one who strolls down the beach in his white bathrobe and perfectly shaved goatee, hugging everyone and wishing we’d all just get along because he’s really just a nice guy who doesn’t care about silly things like sin and Truth. Nope, this is not that guy. That Jesus inspires about as much passion as vanilla soft serve.  This Jesus, the Jesus of Luke’s Gospel, is someone else entirely – he’s downright dangerous. He refuses to be reduced to bland platitudes and clichés.  He inspires passionate responses because he is passion incarnate.  His very presence demands a response.

Many responded to Jesus with hatred, just as they do now.  Some responded to him by changing the world – by setting “the earth on fire”, just as Jesus had done with their hearts. But no one responded with “Whatever”.  As I reflect on this passage it occurs to me that too often I respond to Jesus with a sort of blandness.  I don’t want to rock the boat.  I don’t want to cause division in my family.  I don’t want to cause conflict with friends.  And so I end up cooperating with those who try to turn Jesus into marshmallow fluff.  But Jesus deserves so much more than that.  He deserves the same passion from me that burned within him.  Maybe it’s time to take Jesus seriously.  Maybe it’s time to be set on fire.

Joe Ollier

Joe Ollier is the Coordinator of Youth Ministry at Ascension Parish in Kettering where he and his family are. He has 20 years experience in youth ministry and a Masters Degree in Theological Studies from the University of Dayton.